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Posts Tagged ‘Vorsoisson’

Spring is springing, the grass is probably going to rise any day now, and maybe next month we’ll even get some leaves on the trees…  In the meantime, I lurk down in the basement (as I do in spring and summer too, I do confess) churning out another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread for you, distilling–or is that diluting?–the works of Lois McMaster Bujold into a more readibly assimilable form.  So let’s keep going through Diplomatic Immunity, as Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan hopes for a break in the investigation of the disappearance of Lieutenant Solian on Graf Station…

Chapter Ten

Miles and Bel make arrangements for a message capsule containing Dubauer’s blood sample to be sent to the Prince Xav without being shot down by quaddie patrol ships, and it manages to reach the Barrayaran ship without incident.  After that’s accomplished, he actually takes time for a quick meal of military rations, still watching video records of the Idris‘s airlocks.  Dubauer had never left the ship until evicted with the rest, but Lieutenant Solian had left five times–the last one while he was off-shift.  Miles examines the last video record of him closely, but doesn’t spot evidence of a nosebleed; Solian looks intent on something, but they’re not sure what.  He’s not recorded on having left again, but his body was not found on the Idris.

Miles wonders where Solian went for forty minutes; Bel said he never crossed through customs, unless he was carried through rolled up in a carpet, and they’d have spotted that too.  He could have gone to any of the other Barrayaran ships, or any of six loading bays, but Brun has already said that Solian didn’t enter any of the other ships either.  Bel admits the loading bays aren’t closely monitored, and often used for games or exercise; Miles wonders if Solian talked to someone else from one of the ships.

After their meal, Bel escorts Miles to where the Komarran ships’ crews are being housed.  After fending off their initial clamouring to be released, Miles gathers the ships’ four medtechs.  He asks about their procedures, and how easy it would be to gain access to the infirmary; all of them state that while they’re in space the infirmary is left accessible all the time, in case of emergency, though some drugs are kept locked up.  In dock, they mostly rely on ship’s security to regulate who comes on board the ship, and two of the medtechs secure it entirely when they’re not there.

He asks about their blood synthesis equipment–they all have some–and the Idris medtech says that he’d certainly have noticed if several liters of blood had been synthesized, from the depleted stores.  Miles explains about how the blood that was found, that matched Solian’s, had been synthesized, and says they’ll have to check their supplies.  The tech from the Rudra recalls an odd-looking passenger who’d asked her about the blood synthesizer.

Miles smiled carefully. “Tell me more about your funny passenger.”

“He’d just signed on to the Rudra here at Graf Station. He said he was worried, if he had any accidents en route, because he couldn’t take standard blood substitutes on account of being so heavily gengineered. Which he was. I mean, I believed him about the blood compatibility problems. That’s why we carry the synthesizers, after all. He had the longest fingers—with webs. He told me he was an amphibian, which I didn’t quite believe, till he showed me his gill slits. His ribs opened out in the most astonishing fashion. He said he has to keep spraying his gills with moisturizer, when he travels, because the air on ships and stations is too dry for him.” She stopped, and swallowed.

Miles, excited but trying to hide it, asks when this was, and is told that it was two days before they were evacuated from the ships, and hence three days after Solian’s disappearance.  She says his name was Firka, and she would definitely recognize him if she saw him; when Miles asks, she says she’d be willing, if not eager, to testify under fast-penta.  Miles and Bel negotiate for the release of the medtechs as expert witnesses, and head over to the Rudra to inspect their synthesizer.  They do indeed find its stores down by four liters, and there’s still some residue that wasn’t cleaned up properly, which Miles eagerly takes a sample of for Prince Xav‘s surgeon.

Miles sends Roic to check the Rudra‘s records of Firka, and Bel off with the medtechs to crosscheck the other ships, while he returns to the Kestrel to send his new sample off to Prince Xav.  He checks on Firka’s current location–he’s staying at one of the hostels provided for the passengers, but has apparently gone out for the evening; Miles asks to be notified when he returns.  He then calls to check on Dubauer, who has also gone out, alone, which Miles finds odd for someone who was so adamant about getting an escort back from the Idris; Miles asks to be notified when it returns, too.

He scans through more vids from the Idris, not spotting anyone who seems to match Firka’s description.  Bel and Roic return, Bel saying that they didn’t find anything on the other ships’ synthesizers, and he’d sent the medtechs back.  Miles muses that now they have to wait–for the analysis of the blood samples, and for the return of Firka and Dubauer.  Bel says it sounds like a good time to sleep, and heads off to his and Nicol’s apartment.  Miles lies down for a nap, not wanting to update Venn until the blood tests are back.  Smolyani has disengaged the Kestrel from the airlock, for safety from the riveter, still at large; Graf Station is not a particularly hard place to hide, apparently.  Though Dubauer as a ba, with Star Crèche cargo, is a much more likely assassination target than the Betan Ker Dubauer; Miles hopes to be able to fast-penta Firka soon, though Dubauer is likely to be immune.

Roic awakens Miles when the surgeon calls him, after a four-hour nap that Miles deems sufficient; Roic has apparently not gone to sleep, and says he has something interesting from the Rudra‘s vids to show Miles.  Miles talks to the surgeon–a Captain Clogston–first; Clogston says the blood from the handkerchief is definitely Cetagandan haut, with some oddnesses that Miles identifies as ba.  Miles tells him to store that sample to send back to ImpSec for storage; the Cetagandans will doubtless be unhappy that a ba genetic sample has escaped, though admittedly it’s almost a century old by this point.  Clogston confirms that the other sample was definitely Solian’s synthesized blood, even the same batch.

After dismissing the surgeon’s call, Miles asks Roic what he found.  Roic found Firka on the Rudra‘s vids, having boarded the ship originally after the first delay for repairs.  He’d stayed in the cabin on the ship, but two of the times he’d left the ship exactly matched up with Solian’s, including Solian’s final forty-minute sojourn.  Roic finds an image of Firka to show him.

The man was tall, with pale unhealthy-looking skin and dark hair shaved close to his skull in a patchy, unflattering fuzz, like lichen on a boulder. Big nose, small ears, a lugubrious expression on his rubbery face—he looked strung out, actually, eyes dark and ringed. Long, skinny arms and legs; a loose tunic or poncho concealed the details of his big upper torso. His hands and feet were especially distinctive, and Miles zoomed in for close-ups. One hand was half-concealed in a cloth glove with the fingertips cut out, which hid the webs from a casual glance, but the other was ungloved and half-raised, and the webs showed distinctly, a dark rose color between the over-long fingers. The feet were concealed in soft boots or buskins, tied at the ankles, but they too were about double the length of a normal foot, though no wider. Could the fellow spread his webbed toes, when in the water, as he spread his webbed fingers, to make a broad flipper?

He recalled Ekaterin’s description of the passenger who had accosted her and Bel on their outing, that first day—he had the longest, narrowest hands and feet. Bel should get a look at this shortly. Miles let the vid run. The fellow had a somewhat shambling gait when he walked, lifting and setting down those almost clownish feet.

Roic says his documentation claims he’s from Aslund, though he’d arrived on a ship from Tau Ceti.  Aslund isn’t exactly a water-world, though, so Miles makes a note to double-check his origin with ImpSec.  Firka had apparently first tried to get a berth on Idris, and settled for Rudra because Idris was full.  Miles tries to determine why Firka might have generated a batch of Solian’s blood like that.  If he’d killed Solian, and used the blood to cover it up, it was a waste of effort, since nobody had come close to solving Solian’s murder/disappearance yet.  Had he been trying to frame someone else?

To cover up a desertion? Might Firka and Solian be collaborating on Solian’s defection? Or . . . when might a desertion not be a desertion? When it was an ImpSec covert ops scam, that’s when. Except that Solian was Service Security, not ImpSec: a guard, not a spy or trained agent. Still . . . a sufficiently bright, loyal, highly motivated, and ambitious officer, finding himself in some complex imbroglio, might not wait for orders from on high to pursue a fast-moving long shot. As Miles had reason to know.

Of course, taking risky chances like that could get such an officer killed. As Miles also had reason to know.

If it hadn’t been for the incident with Corbeau, what would have come of the blood dumping?  It would certainly have reawakened interest in Solian’s disappearance, and delayed the fleet’s departure, much as the Corbeau incident had.  Miles considers briefly whether Garnet Five might not have engineered that incident somehow…

Roic says there’s no clear footage of Firka taking containers of blood off the ship, but he did take various boxes back and forth, so he could have smuggled it out.  Miles double-checks with the hostels, and neither Firka or Dubauer have returned.  Miles calls the security office, and speaks to Teris Three, night-shift supervisor, Chief Venn having also gone to snatch some sleep.  Miles asks for them to detain Firka, for the purposes of fast-penta interrogation, as a material witness.  Teris Three says that they can’t do that without a formal charge, and an adjudicator to authorize the fast-penta.  Miles offers a charge of littering, and illegal disposal of organic matter, which Teris Three agrees is a misdemeanor, at least.  She says they’re undermanned, but she’ll put out a bulletin for him; Miles promises to send her pictures of him.

Miles and Roic inspect Firka’s image, and speculate that his toes might be prehensile enough for him to operate floater controls almost like a quaddie; emptying jugs of blood would be easier than toting a body, too.  If that were so, the initial identification of the riveter as a quaddie is suspect.  He fiddles with Firka’s image, tacking on a blond wig, and tries to decide if it’s a close enough match.

He calls up Bel to try to get a second opinion, and gets a sleepy Nicol.  When Miles asks to talk to Bel, though, Nicol says that he never came home…despite having left six hours earlier.

Comments

Some progress here, finally, as the source of the Solian blood is found, and a possible culprit found.  Firka–as he’s calling himself at this point–appears, and looks to be not only the one who planted the blood, but also the mad riveter.  What’s unknown, as yet, is his connection to Solian and/or Dubauer, both of whom were on the Idris.  And Ekaterin had probably met him already, in that earlier scene that we only got to hear about second-hand.

And now Bel gets to be the damsel in distress, disappearing mysteriously despite a security escort (a story to be told in the next chapter).  All the pieces are still not there, but once we get “Firka”‘s story all will fall into place…

It’s almost not worth mentioning at this point how the medtechs don’t get names.  Though the surgeon on Prince Xav does, at this point.  I suppose not everyone needs to be dealt with as an individual, but sometimes we learn their names anyway.  Well, I suppose Bujold isn’t Robert Jordan, you don’t need to learn everybody’s name.

Chapter Eleven

Miles and Roic arrive at Graf Station Security Post One, in the zero-gee zone, a little after Nicol; the quaddies become noticeably warier at the arrival of the downsiders, but Chief Venn arrives eventually and ushers them inside.  Bel apparently dismissed its quaddie guard at a bubble-car stop near its home, and hasn’t been seen since; Venn says he’s sure there’s a simple explanation.  He offers Miles another liaison officer, and Miles says he’d rather have Bel Thorne, and calls it careless of them to have lost another downsider; he points out that Bel is another possible target of the rogue riveter.  Teris Three says that they have traced the riveter machine, purchased from a supply store near the free fall docks and carried out, but the clerk can’t remember for sure who bought it.

Teris Three also brings up Miles’s request to detain Firka, and Miles explains about tracking down the source of the synthesized blood, and describes Firka’s unusual appearance.  Venn authorizes Teris Three to disseminate Firka’s description–and, at Nicol’s insistence, adds a request to look out for Bel Thorne.  Miles adds a request to take Dubauer into custody–“protective” custory, at least–because of its suspicious current absence, and also its presence at the rivet-gun attack; Venn acquiesces to that as well.  Teris Three leaves, going off shift, and Venn offers to send Nicol home as well, but she says she’d prefer to stay and wait for news, and Miles declares his intention to stay with her.  Venn shifts them out of his office into a private waiting room.

Miles wonders to himself whether Bel had any other ImpSec cases that might relate to his disappearance, but can’t ask Nicol about it since she doesn’t seem to be in the know about Bel’s second job.  Nicol and Roic make small talk while Miles tries to decide what to do next; he’d hoped to have Firka and Dubauer in hand to fast-penta this morning, but they all seem to have disappeared.

Teris Three comes to fetch Miles back to talk to Venn, who is just imploring Sealer Greenlaw to come deal with Miles; Teris Three says that Bel dismissed it escort at the Joint, a main hub in the station, because it had bumped into Garnet Five and went to talk to her.  Venn intimates that perhaps Bel might have been having an affair with her, and Miles refrains from commenting apart from suggesting they call her.  Venn obliges, but gets a recording; Miles suggests they send a trooper to check on her.

Miles returns to update Nicol, who can suggest several innocent reasons Garnet Five might have wanted to talk to Bel, such as trying to get some information about or affecting Corbeau, or just wanting someone to discuss her currently-unpopular paramour with.  Miles points out that wouldn’t account for Bel’s continued absence, and wishes heartily that he had more information.  He decides it’s late enough to call Ekaterin, who claims to have been already awake, updating her on Bel’s disappearance.  She seeks assurance that he’s keeping protection, and Miles offers to send her home on ahead of him, which she refuses to commit to.

Miles is just considering heading out to wander the station in hope of finding something helpful when Garnet Five arrives, demanding to talk to Lord Vorkosigan.  She finds their room and greets Nicol with a hug; she says Bel was gone when she came to, and Miles urges her to tell the story a little more coherently.  Garnet Five says she’d bumped into Bel and asked him about Corbeau, so they went to get some peppermint tea.  Bel became distracted when it saw a quaddie that it suspected of fencing stolen cargo talking to an odd-looking downsider.

“Tall, lanky fellow with webbed hands and long feet, and a big barrel chest? Looks sort of like his mother might have married the Frog Prince, but the kiss didn’t quite work out?” Miles asked.

Garnet Five stared. “Why, yes. Well, I’m not sure about the chest—he was wearing this loose, flippy cape-thing. How did you know?”

“This is about the third time he’s turned up in this case. You might say he’s riveted my attention. But go on, then what?”

Bel sat with its back to them and had Garnet Five report on them; the quaddie spotted Bel and left, and Bel insisted on following Firka when he left too.  Garnet Five stayed with it; Firka doubled back onto the grav side of the station, and then apparently lay in wait for them, spraying some chemical in their faces that knocked them out.  When she woke up, Bel was gone, and she was left inside a recycle bin; she extricated herself, located a patroller, and came straight to the station, so Miles estimates she was out for at least six hours.  He recommends she get a blood sample taken right away in case there’s still traces of the drug in her system, which she agrees to.

When Miles had assured himself that Garnet Five had been taken into competent medical hands, and plenty of them, he turned back to Teris Three.

“It isn’t just my airy theories any more,” he told her. “You have a valid assault charge on this Firka fellow. Can’t you step up the search?”

“Oh, yes,” she answered grimly. “This one’s going out on all the com channels, now. He attacked a quaddie. And he released toxic volatiles into the public air.”

Miles makes a nuisance of himself until Chief Venn agrees to send him, with an escort, back to the scene of Firka’s attack, where there are already CSI quaddies at work, scanning for fingerprints and gathering samples.  Enjoined from poking around while they’re gathering evidence, Miles wanders around, looking for clues or hidden messages or something.  The CSI techs note a suspicious deficiency of evidence, as if it’s already been swept once; Miles manages to convince the patroller to scan the corridor that Bel and Garnet Five came down, checking for more evidence, or unlocked doors, but they don’t find anything too interesting.  Miles tries to picture what Firka would have done with Bel’s unconscious form, which would have to taken out through one of the never-quite-deserted adjoining corridors.

Attracted by the smell of nearby baking, Miles decides it’s a good time for breakfast, so they head into a café.  Miles is enjoying their fresh fruit when the holovid in the corner pipes up with a safety bulletin, complete with pictures of Firka and Bel; the server tells them that it’s been running every fifteen minutes, and summarizes the bits that Miles didn’t catch.  Miles wonders if this will drive Firka to panic, or to turn himself in…  He tries to remind himself of his real mission, to free the fleet, but right now he’s more worried about finding Bel, and he can’t figure out how to parlay this series of events to his advantage.

They return to the security post, with not much news for Nicol, though he’s unable to reassure her about what Firka have wanted Bel for.  They are interrupted by new arrivals.

A pair of husky male quaddies in the orange work shirts and shorts of Docks and Locks managed the two ends of a three-meter length of pipe. Firka occupied the middle.

The unhappy downsider’s wrists and ankles were lashed to the pipe with swathes of electrical tape, bending him in a U, with another rectangle of tape plastered across his mouth, muffling his moans. His eyes were wide, and rolled in panic. Three more quaddies in orange, panting and rumpled, one with a red bruise starting around his eye, bobbed along beside as outriders.

The work crew took aim and floated with their squirming burden through free fall to fetch up with a thump at the reception desk. A quartet of uniformed security quaddies appeared from another portal to gather and stare at this unwilling prize; the desk sergeant hit his intercom, and lowered his voice to speak into it in a rapid undertone.

The spokes-quaddie for the posse bustled forward, a smile of grim satisfaction on his bruised face. “We caught him for you.”

Comments

Lots of investigating in this chapter, and evidence gathered, but not the kind that is immediately obvious–fibers, skin cells, dust samples, whatever.  Understandably frustrating for Miles, and not all that exciting for the reader either, perhaps.  But the assault on Bel and Garnet Five does at last motivate the quaddies to look for Firka, and successfully, as it turns out.  Which is to say, good for them–traditionally these kinds of civilians aren’t too useful in these situations, but looks like this time they managed to pull it off.

I also sympathize with Miles feeling like he’s losing track of his initial goal, because his investigation seems to be leading him in odd directions.  On one level, to free the fleet he needs to bail out the captive Barrayarans, but to convince Admiral Vorpatril to leave he also needs to find Solian, or at least find out what happened to him.  Stumbling on the ba Dubauer wasn’t really related directly to Solian, it was more something that happened because of the lockdown of the ships, but you bet your ass that Dubauer was related to Solian’s disappearance, even if Miles hasn’t found the connection yet.

Like I said, it reminds me of Cetaganda, where Miles was there to investigate the soletta destruction, and ended up drawn into mysterious goings-on in the terraforming department, which led right back to the soletta accident, by way of the Komarran conspirators and their need to finance their scheme.  Stumbling on that was really just luck on Miles’s part, but on Graf Station there are comparatively fewer things going on, so it’s less remarkable that the oddities he finds there are directly connected to his case.  Though I don’t recall right now exactly how, or if, this helps get his ships out of dock…

It’s amusing how they take Firka more seriously now.  After all, they can get him now for contaminating the public air.  Well, Graf Station is like Kline Station–they take their closed system very seriously.


At some point recently, while in bed, I’d come up with some amusing alternate titles for Vorkosigan books, in the form of Miles Vorkosigan and the… or Cordelia Naismith and the…  And she told me to write them down, and I said I’d remember, and…well, they’re gone.  I’ll try to remember some of them and share them next time.  Or feel free to put some in the comments (he said hopefully).

As for Diplomatic Immunity, we’re going to be getting a lot more backstory in the next chapter or two, and find out more about “Firka” and Dubauer and what’s really going on.  So that’ll be fun.  Until next week, then…if I’m not busy with a last-minute push on my taxes.

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Greetings, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the Internet’s favourite reread of the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, as far as I know.  This week I will continue through Diplomatic Immunity, as Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan is called upon to defuse a situation in Quaddiespace, on his honeymoon no less, and finds more than he bargained for.  This week I cover chapters Eight and Nine, wherein the plot does, in fact, definitely begin to thicken, after the unexpected sniper attack that ended our previous chapter…

Chapter Eight

Miles said in a muffled voice, “Bel, will you please get off my head?”

There was a brief pause. Then Bel rolled away and, cautiously, sat up, head hunched into collar. “Sorry,” said Bel gruffly. “Thought for a moment there I was about to lose you. Again.”

Miles examines the floor, covered with gouges; he reaches for a small brass object rolling by, but it’s too hot to touch.  Dubauer has a trickle of blood coming from its face, but seems otherwise unhurt; Miles lends it his handkerchief to staunch the wound.  Miles tries to decide if it’s flattering to have someone trying to kill him, if it means that he’s on the right track.

One of the hostel staff comes over to check on them, and tells them that whoever was firing dropped their weapon over the edge of the balcony when they fled.  Miles and Bel go to examine it, and identify it as an automated hot riveter, obviously much hacked to weaponize it.  It can’t have had much accuracy, but Miles reflects that if a burst of rivets had hit his head, cryo-revival would have been pointless, leaving Ekaterin widowed on her honeymoon…  Seized with fear for his wife, he immediately pages Roic and tells him to guard Ekaterin; he considers ordering them off the station, but decides that Kestrel wouldn’t be safe enough if someone is hunting Vorkosigans.  He gives Roic a brief summary of what happened, but tells the armsman to stay with Ekaterin, since quaddie security is beginning to arrive.

Miles apologizes to Dubauer, saying it can be dangerous to be too close to him.  Dubauer says they must have saved its life, and says it didn’t see anything.  Miles asks for his handkerchief back–Ekaterin made it herself–and Dubauer offers to have it cleaned and returned, but Miles says that his batman can do that, and plucks it out of the herm’s hand.

A quaddie patrolwoman asks them what happened, and Bel gives her a detailed account of the events.  Nobody else proves to have anything more than minor wounds, to Miles’s relief.  The patrolwoman asks for gender and species of the attacker, and nobody is quite sure, though a couple of witnesses aver that it was a quaddie in a float chair.  Miles quietly asks Bel about the riveter; Bel says it wouldn’t raise eyebrows, carrying it around the station, and says it’s locally manufactured.  Miles says they’ll need to ask Venn to find out about its origins, and who bought it.  Miles feels himself on adrenaline high, and also secretly pleased at the prospect of a murderous quaddie to knock Greenlaw off her high horse…if she wasn’t behind the attempt in the first place.

Venn himself arrives with the medics, and asks Miles if he was hit; Miles emphasizes Bel’s role in saving him, and the herm is rapidly acclaimed as a hero.  A patroller returns to tell Venn that they lost the attacker, and there is a lack of consensus among witnesses about its description.  Bel admits it was reminded of a downsider it had seen recently, but that can’t be it; Miles doesn’t have much of a distinctive image either, and wishes one of these people had happened to be filming at the time, but none were.

Dubauer, refusing medical attention, asks to return to its room; Bel apologizes and says it will arrange the visit to the Idris as soon as possible.  The media is beginning to arrive, and Sealer Greenlaw; Miles gives them the same story he had Venn, including Bel’s heroics.

Greenlaw said stiffly, “Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, may I convey my profound personal apologies for this untoward incident. I assure you, all of the Union’s resources will be turned to tracking down what I am certain must be an unbalanced individual and danger to us all.”

Danger to us all indeed. “I don’t know what’s going on, here,” said Miles. He let his voice sharpen. “And clearly, neither do you. This is no diplomatic chess game any more. Someone seems to be trying to start a damned war in here. They nearly succeeded.”

Miles theorizes that the attacker’s motive might have been revenge, for someone wounded in the Barrayaran attack, though Greenlaw asserts that none of the wounded had died.  He receives a call from Admiral Vorpatril, asking about the attack, and telling Miles he has the fleet on full alert.  Miles orders him to stand down, and to do nothing without explicit orders; he explains to Greenlaw that, since he’s the Emperor’s Voice, an attack on him is tantamount to an attack on the Emperor himself, hence his allusion to starting a war.

“So on Barrayar, what kind of justice you receive depends on who you are? Interesting. I do not regret to inform you, Lord Vorkosigan, that on Graf Station you will be treated like any other victim—no better, no worse. Oddly enough, this is no loss for you.”

“How salutary for me,” said Miles dryly. “And while you’re proving how unimpressed you are with my Imperial authority, a dangerous killer remains at large. What will it be to lovely, egalitarian Graf Station if he goes for a less personal method of disposing of me next time, such as a large bomb? Trust me—even on Barrayar, we all die the same. Shall we continue this discussion in private?”

Ekaterin arrives then, with Roic, Nicol and Garnet Five, and hugs Miles fiercely in front of the vid cameras, Nicole doing the same with Bel.  Roic tells him that he got the access codes to the _Idris_, but the quaddies wouldn’t let him board; Miles says that that problem may have been solved for them.  Greenlaw ushers them into a meeting room; Ekaterin remarks on Miles’s improved mood, what with someone having shot at him, and Miles admits that he was an adrenaline junkie, but he figured out years ago that he had to kick the habit.

Greenlaw begins by apologizing, and Miles seizes control to say that if this was not just random violence–which Greenlaw denies–then it must be connected to the Solian affair.  Which, he says, has been artificially hampered by a lack of communication between the two sides.  He trusts the quaddies to look for his assailant, and he in turn will do all that is possible to find Solian, hoping that the two will meet in the middle.

She blinked, seeming a little surprised by this turn of discourse. “Possibly . . .”

“Good. Then I want complete and unimpeded access for me, my assistant Armsman Roic, and anyone else I may designate to any and all areas and records pertinent to this search. Starting with the Idris, and starting immediately!”

“We cannot give downsiders license to roam at will over Station secure areas that—”

“Madam Sealer. You are here to promote and protect Union interests, as I am to promote and protect Barrayaran interests. But if there is anything at all about this mess that’s good for either Quaddiespace or the Imperium, it’s not apparent to me! Is it to you?”

Greenlaw turns to Bel then, thanking it for its courage and quick thinking, which Bel modestly downplays.  Ekaterin thanks it as well, and Nicol; Miles agrees, and asks if the herm may keep him company for the remainder of his visit.  Greenlaw and Bel assent, and Greenlaw then allows Miles access to secured areas, under Bel’s supervision.  Miles tries to appear dubious, not wanting to impose on Bel’s time; Bel says it is willing, provided it is paid overtime and freed of regular duties for the interim, and Miles mentally notes that this will put the herm on triple time…

Miles says he wants to start with the Idris, and asks Ekaterin to return to the Prince Xav for her own safety, to which she agrees.  He asks for a Barrayaran personnel shuttle to be allowed to take her out, but Greenlaw refuses, since that’s how Barrayarans invaded the station the last time.  She offers a pod and quaddie pilot, and Miles expresses a similar distrust of unknown quaddies given the recent attack.  Bel breaks the impasse by offering to choose the pilot himself, and Miles contacts Admiral Vorpatril to let him know; the admiral is clearly aware that this is a sign the situation is getting more serious, and asks to be updated at Miles’s earliest convenience.

As they are leaving, Miles considers trajectories from the railing, and wonders if Bel might have been the target; he asks Bel if it has been involved in any indiscreet romantic liaisons.  Dubauer was also there, of course, but Miles can’t think of how the herm might have been able to anger any quaddie quite that much.

Comments

Nobody is able to agree on anything about the attacker except for a couple that say it was probably a quaddie in a float chair.  I’m not sure why Miles seizes on this fact so quickly, except for the fact that he can use it as leverage against Sealer Greenlaw…but even then, he wouldn’t have to believe it himself, which he seems to.  Bel discounts one suspicion about the attacker’s identity because that person was a downsider…rather than try to reconsider whether or not the attacker was a quaddie.  I don’t know, this time through, that seems to bother me.  Perhaps it’s because I’m pretty damn sure that it wasn’t no quaddie.

It’s also a little convenient that Miles ends up with Dubauer’s blood on his handkerchief.  The herm puts up a bit of a fuss about it, but stops short of outright struggle, so I suppose it doesn’t want to show too much reluctance in leaving a blood sample in Miles’s hands.  Maybe it’s just another one of those things that only sticks out on a reread.

Chapter Nine

Bel’s designated quaddie pilot arrives to take Ekaterin away; Miles reminds her to check in with him via wristcom.  Bel calls Dubauer down to the lobby to accompany them to the Idris; they take a shortcut to the loading bay, and Bel gets them past the guards and onto the ship.

The Idris, like its sister ship the Rudra, was of a utilitarian design that dispensed with elegance. It was essentially a bundle of seven huge parallel cylinders: the central-most devoted to personnel, four of the outer six given to freight. The other two nacelles, opposite each other in the outer ring, housed the ship’s Necklin rods that generated the field to fold it through jump points. Normal-space engines behind, mass shield generators in front. The ship rotated around its central axis to bring each outer cylinder to alignment with the stationside freight lock for automated loading or unloading of containers, or hand loading of more delicate goods. The design was not without added safety value, for in the event of a pressurization loss in one or more cylinders, any of the others could serve as a refuge while repairs were made or evacuation effected.

They pass through a freight nacelle, and then into the personnel area.  Roic indicates the way to Solian’s office, while Bel escorts Dubauer to the outer freight section that holds its animals.  Roic admits them to the office, tiny and barely enough for some cabinets and a comconsole; Miles checks out the latter while Roic starts on the cabinets.  There are no personal touches in the office, but then Brun’s investigators already looked through it after Solian’s initial disappearance.  Miles examines Solian’s logs, but finds nothing suspicious in there, nothing that indicates he might have thought someone was trying to kill him.  There are video records of anyone passing through airlocks, but it’ll take time to go through ten days of them, and it will also take a while to look for any records that Solian (if he’d actually deserted) might have deleted.  Miles makes copies, and they move on to Solian’s personal cabin, which proves to be similarly uninformative, nothing personal left except for Solian’s custom pressure suit.  They head back to look over the airlock vid records.

Bel returns after a while, though it says that Dubauer is still busily servicing the replicators, of which there are close to a thousand.  Miles wonders at the extravagance, noting that animals are more often shipped as frozen embryos, like his grandfather did with horses, not developing fetuses; he supposes that this way travel time can also be gestation time.  They check on his cargo–boarded at Komarr, bound for Xerxes, next stop after Graf Station, booked weeks before the fleet departed, but no info on ultimate source before Komarr or destination after Xerxes.  Miles asks Bel if something is bothering him; Bel says there’s something odd about Dubauer, but it can’t say exactly what, and Miles makes a note to check on Dubauer’s coming and goings.

Bel, watching him, remarked, “Greenlaw was secretly impressed with you, by the way.”

“Oh, yeah? She’s certainly managed to keep it a secret from me.”

Bel’s grin sparked. “She told me you appeared very task oriented. That’s a compliment, in Quaddiespace. I didn’t explain to her that you considered getting shot at to be a normal part of your daily routine.”

Miles protests that he’s trying to be more rear-echelon, and getting too old for the front lines, plus he’s about to become a father, and measuring himself against his own father has him a bit daunted.  Dubauer returns, done with its tasks, and asks for an escort back to the hostel, for which purpose Bel is willing to grant one of the quaddie guards.  Dubauer also tells them that if they’re stuck at the station much longer it’ll have to start destroying fetuses grown too large for their containers.  While it does have insurance to cover the financial loss, it would also like to gather tissue samples from the animals to recoup their “proprietary bioengineering”, and facilities to recycle them.  It asks for permission to stay aboard Idris for that purpose, which Bel isn’t sure about.  Miles suggests alternative, like hiring a faster ship, but Dubauer wonders who would pay for such a thing.

When Bel returns from escorting Dubauer out, Miles says he wants to look at the herm’s cargo.  Bel says it can’t help there, since each passenger’s rented cargo space is private to themselves, and even Graf Station hasn’t gotten access to them yet.  Miles says that he’s an Imperial Auditor, the ship is Barrayaran-registered, and owned by the Empress’s family, so he has a perfect right to go wherever he wants; Roic gets Solian’s security overrides and they head off to the freight nacelle.

The racks of replicators are impressive and densely packed.  Miles looks over them, confirming Bel’s estimate of a thousand, and wonders that they’re no larger than regular human uterine replicators.  He doesn’t find any maker’s marks or serial numbers; he brings up the monitor screen on one of them, and is shocked to see a familiar screaming-bird pattern.  When Bel asks him what the problem is, Miles tells him that this is the sign of the Cetagandan Star Crèche, and explains how high up that is, about the haut-ladies and their efforts to perfect their genomes.  Miles checks more closely on the monitor, and confirms that the fetus inside is all too human; they check throughout the room, and every replicator they look at proves to be occupied with a human fetus.

Roic, puzzled, asks what a Betan herm is doing with all this Cetagandan stuff; Miles asks Bel if it really thinks that Dubauer is Betan, and Bel admits it never really came up, but insists that there’s something off.  Miles says that Dubauer has no facial down, like a real herm would, and speculates that Dubauer is not actually a double-sexed Betan hermaphrodite, but a sexless Cetagandan ba; a sample of the haut-ladies’ work, probably closely related, genetically, to Emperor Fletchir Giaja, which may explain why Miles thought it looked familiar.

Miles wonders what this Cetagandan ba would be doing here, with all these Cetagandan fetuses, traveling covertly, and on a Barrayaran ship, no less.  He wonders if the Star Crèche is up to something peculiar, and why Dubauer would be so willing to terminate all the fetuses rather than ask for help.  Bel suggests that perhaps Dubauer is just using this to try to convince the Barrayarans to work harder to get the ships free, but Miles doesn’t buy it.

He tells Bel to lock Idris back down completely, not letting anyone else on board, because he actually thinks it’s time to check with his superiors before proceeding; he recalls with disquiet Gregor’s mention of unrest around Rho Ceta, and can’t help but think it’s related.  Bel protests that it’s going to look funny, after all the work they’ve done to get Dubauer access to the ship; it asks if it should report Dubauer as a possible danger, and suggests that the ba may have, after all, been the target of the rogue riveter.  Miles says that Bel knows about the danger, so technically Graf Station knows; Bel finds this unconvincing, but accedes to Miles’s request to keep this to itself for a little while.

“I want the secured comconsole in the Kestrel. We’ll seal this hold and continue later. Wait. I want to have a look at Dubauer’s cabin, first.”

“Miles, have you ever heard of the concept of a search warrant?”

“Dear Bel, how fussy you have grown in your old age. This is a Barrayaran ship, and I am Gregor’s Voice. I don’t ask for search warrants, I issue them.”

Dubauer’s cabin proves just as unenlightening as Solian’s; Miles makes a mental note to have it, and the cargo hold, searched more forensically, though he’s not sure the Barrayarans are qualified for the task, and he doesn’t want to trust the quaddies with it.  He asks Bel if the Cetagandans have any agents, and Bel says they’d likely be on Union Station; neither Barrayar nor Cetaganda have a full-time consul, just a quaddie lawyer who keeps documents for both of them, and several other polities as well.  Bel calls Venn for an update on the search for the rogue riveter, but there doesn’t seem to have been any progress.

They leave the Idris and head for the Kestrel, arriving without incident.  Miles asks how difficult it would be to get permission from Greenlaw to fast-penta Dubauer; Bel said they’d need to be able to convince a quaddie judge it was necessary, which he doesn’t find likely.  Miles suggests just ambushing Dubauer on the Idris, but Bel thinks it’d be too risky, especially if Dubauer is innocent.

“Dubauer’s not innocent. At the very least, it’s lied about its cargo.”

“Not necessarily. Its manifest just reads, Mammals, genetically altered, assorted. You can’t say they aren’t mammals.”

“Transporting minors for immoral purposes, then. Slave trading. Hell, I’ll think of something.”

Closeted with his secure comconsole, he composes himself, considering how long it’ll be likely to take before his message reaches its destination; they can’t go faster than lightspeed between jump gates, and at the jump gates they are relayed periodically, at the major jump points, by special message ships, or any passing ship on the minor routes.  It’ll take several days, at least, to get a message to Barrayar from here.  He composes it anyway, sending it to Gregor, Guy Allegre, and the ImpSec head on Komarr; he gives details on what he’s found, including a full description of Dubauer and its cargo, and asks for more information on the Cetagandan situation around Rho Ceta.

After he finishes sending it, Ekaterin pages him on the wristcom; on finding that he’s actually at the comconsole, she transfers her call to that so they can see each other.  She asks if he’s eaten yet; of course he hasn’t, and she reminds him to do so before heading out again.  She asks if he turned up anything interesting, and he gives her full details of what he found on the Idris; she’s impressed, saying all she has to share is gossip.  Apparently Solian had once had to duck off a meeting with nosebleed, and she wondered if it was a chronic thing, which would make it easier for someone to get a sample of his blood to duplicate.

Ekaterin says she finds the whole centralized haut breeding thing to be odd, with the necessity for constantly shipping embryos out of the Star Crèche; Miles explains that it’s all coordinated, the haut consorts bringing the embryos out once a year, and Ekaterin wonders who Dubauer is taking those replicators to, and if it will have people to care for them all.  Miles suddenly remembers the handkerchief in his pocket with Dubauer’s blood sample on it, and says he needs to talk to Prince Xav‘s surgeon right away.

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I looked up “Idris” and “Rudra” right now, because I vaguely thought that they were both Hindu deities or something.  Turns out I was half right–Rudra was a Hindu deity, a storm god of some sort, but Idris was a prophet mentioned in the Koran.  I think I was thinking of Indra, rather than Idris, who is another Hindu deity.  Barrayaran warships tend to be named to honour military and political figures (and possibly both)–Prince Serg, Prince Xav, General Vorkraft…  Though the fast courier was Kestrel, of course.  I guess I hadn’t gotten a real impression that Komarr was dominantly Muslim or Hindu, but I guess those cultural groups may have been represented.  Soudha was the only one from Komarr that really struck me as either; Tuomonen was Finnish, and the others seemed fairly scattered ethnically.  But then, few of the planets are that culturally monolithic.  Lairouba sounded somewhat Arabic, Marilac vaguely French, Escobar vaguely Spanish, but Barrayar was canonically Greek/Russian/French/English.  The Jacksonian House Bharaputra, of course, is very Indian-sounding, but not Fell or Ryoval, particularly.  So there’s been some mixing, as one would expect.

Does Miles not have his Auditor’s Seal with him?  Roic has override codes that they use to get into Solian’s office, and onto his computer, and into Dubauer’s cargo bay, but that’s the kind of thing he used the Auditor’s Seal for in the past.  Did he just not take it on his honeymoon?  How unforesightful, if so; but even then, ImpSec could surely have brought it along on the Kestrel.  I don’t recall Miles even thinking of using his…though he does mention it, but only in the context as something he’ll eat if his investigation doesn’t meet up with the quaddies’.  So…would it not do him any good on a Komarran cargo ship?  His statement to Bel that he has the right to issue search warrants would contradict that.  Maybe using Solian’s access codes is just more convenient somehow?  It is for Roic, at least, I suppose.

So yes, now, finally, the real plot has started.  Because, though the ends haven’t quite met up yet, if you were to follow the threads from Solian and the rogue riveter (sorry, I just love that phrase), they would meet at Dubauer in the middle.  (And I can never help but notice that “Dubauer” does have “ba” in the middle, too.)  This plot is hearkening back to that of Cetaganda, of course, with the Star Crèche, the ba, and all that, lest you think that it was going to be based on Falling Free somehow.  (Or The Vor Game–Dubauer is really Cavilo!)


Close to the halfway point, now.  Dubauer’s already been revealed, but I suppose there’s still the rogue riveter, and finding out the rest of what’s really going on, and then trying to solve the problem, and all that.  Five more weeks, with luck, and more short, snappy chapters.

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A minute passed.  After a minute, another minute passed.  In fact, before you know it, a week had passed, and a minute later, there was a new Vorkosigan Reread post!  It’ll only take a minute, or a few minutes, to read, as I examine, in minute detail, the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  This week, I spent a few minutes digging into Chapters Six and Seven of Diplomatic Immunity, wherein quaddies dance and drum, and blood turns out to be not what it seems.

Chapter Six

Bel meets them at the Kestrel‘s hatch, dressed in a bright orange and dark blue outfit, based on what seems to be a common quaddie style.  It takes them to a restaurant, on the grav side but dedicated to the use of all three dimensions by the use of tables on top of pillars.  Roic even has a seat above theirs, so he can watch the whole room.  Nicol is waiting for them, and soon gets into easy conversation with Ekaterin.  Dinner conversation in general flows easily, though they steer clear of old war stories.

In a private moment, Nicol congratulates “Admiral Naismith” on his good fortune, and Miles accepts it on Lord Vorkosigan’s behalf.  She says she’s happy to stay at home from now on, but she’s worried about whether Bel will be staying with her, given that it hasn’t yet applied for citizenship.  Miles keeps mum about Bel’s private quandary about divided loyalties.

“I do note, Bel could have found a portmaster’s berth in quite a few places. It traveled a very long way to get one here, instead.”

Nicol’s smile softened. “That’s so.” She added, “Do you know, when Bel arrived at Graf Station, it still had that Betan dollar I’d paid you on Jackson’s Whole tucked in its wallet?”

Miles managed to stop the logical query, Are you sure it was the same one? on his lips before it fell out of his mouth leaving room for his downsider foot. One Betan dollar looked like any other. If Bel had claimed it for the same one, when making Nicol’s reacquaintance, who was Miles to suggest otherwise? Not that much of a spoilsport, for damn sure.

After dinner they take a bubble-car through to the zero-gee side to the Madame Minchenko Memorial Auditorium, where Nicol parts with them to ready for her performance.  The entrance to the auditorium is a regular-sized doorway, not yet crowded because of their early arrival, so Miles is surprised to find out just how large the space on the other side is.  It’s an enormous sphere, with most of one end transparent; the box seats on the surface of the sphere are arranged in hexagons, like honeycomb.

They are ushered to their assigned hex, where Garnet Five is already waiting for them, dressed elegantly except for the inflatable cast on a lower arm; Bel introduces them.  Miles thanks her for getting her admittance to the show, and apologizes right off for the behaviour of his fellow Barrayarans.  Garnet turns the discussion to the fate of Dmitri–Ensign Corbeau–and Miles mentions his several options, stressing the possibility of desertion charges if he persists in requesting asylum.  Garnet points out that his request could very well be accepted, and Miles says that even so, that would effectively result in permanent exile from his homeworld.  If he’s more cautious, he could serve out his time in the military and return to Quaddiespace a free man later.

Garnet stubbornly insists that they want to spend the rest of their lives together; Miles wants to ask how sure they are, though he’s reminded of how quickly he fell for Ekaterin, after all, but he’s not quite sure what kind of attraction is at work between Garnet and Corbeau.  Ekaterin asks about children, and Garnet says that it can all be handled via replicator, and they could decide on quaddie or legged offspring just as they could decide on the sex of the babies; quaddie-downsider relationships are far from unknown, apparently.  At Garnet’s prodding, Bel shows them a holocube of various potential offspring that he and Nicol could have, legged and quaddie, as well as both sexes and herm.  Bel says that they’d want to have a quaddie girl first, assuming of course that he gets around to his citizenship application.

The auditorium has filled up during their conversation, including a few downsiders (some of whom, stranded in midair, have to be towed to their seats by the ushers), but no other Barrayarans visible, and the show is now about to start.

Lights flared, an exuberant fountain of red and orange and gold, and from all sides, the performers flowed in. Thundered in. Quaddie males, athletic and vastly enthusiastic, in skin-fitting ship knits made splendid with glitter. Drumming.

I wasn’t expecting hand drums. Other free fall performances Miles had seen, whether dance or gymnastic, had been eerily silent except for the music and sound effects. Quaddies made their own noise, and still had hands left to play hands-across; the drummers met in the middle, clasped, gripped, exchanged momentum, turned, and doubled back in a shifting pattern. Two dozen men in free fall took up perfect station in the center of the spherical auditorium, their motion so controlled as to permit no sideways drift as the energy of their spins and duckings, twistings and turnings, flowed through their bodies one to another and on around again. The air pulsed with the rhythm of their drumming: drums of all sizes, round, oblong, two-headed; not only played by each holder, but some batted back and forth among them in an eye-and-ear-stunning cross between music and juggling, never missing a beat or a blow. The lights danced. Reflections spattered on the walls, picking out flashes from the boxes of upraised hands, arms, bright cloth, jewelry, entranced faces.

They are shortly joined by a dozen quaddie females with castanets, who add their own notes to the music.  Miles mentally compares the performance to that of a Barrayaran marching band, demonstrating skill and excellence for its own sake.  The piece goes on for twenty minutes before coming to an end in a burst of noise, the two groups leaving again to thunderous applause.  They are replaced by the orchestra, all with acoustic instruments, Ekaterin notes, Nicol with her harp and dulcimer.  The orchestral suite includes a solo dulcimer section for her, and Miles takes note of Bel’s entranced expression, though he’s doubtless heard her play many times.

After the orchestra comes the ballet piece, which Garnet Five tells them comes from a longer work, The Crossing, an epic which tells the story of their travel to Quaddiespace.  This piece is the love duet between Leo Graf and Silver, her usual part, and she hopes that her understudy doesn’t screw it up.  Leo is played by a male quaddie with fake legs, and dances clumsily enough that Miles feels a bit uncomfortable, until Bel assures him that Leo is supposed to “dance like an engineer”; Silver seems to dance well enough to Miles’s eyes, though Garnet is more critical.  Miles realizes that this love story, part of quaddie culture from its beginning, explains why romances with downsiders are so accepted in their society.

During intermission, they discuss quaddie names; Garnet Five explains that quaddies often just have single names, but the more popular ones are distinguished by numbers.  Bel says that Leo Ninety-Nine is the highest number he’s seen, and Garnet says there are eight of her name altogether; Bel says gallantly that she will surely inspire more.

The second half of the show was as impressive as the first. During one of the musical interludes, Nicol had an exquisite harp part. There were two more large group dances, one abstract and mathematical, the other narrative, apparently based on a tragic pressurization disaster of a prior generation. The finale put everyone out in the middle, for a last vigorous, dizzying whirl, with drummers, castanet players, and orchestra combining in musical support that could only be described as massive.

Miles is almost surprised that four hours have passed by the time they leave the auditorium.  They bid farewell to Garnet Five and Bel and Nicol accompany them back to the Kestrel via bubble car.  Miles reflects on how well the quaddie dance shows them to be far from handicapped by their physical differences.  This reminds him to check his brain chemicals before he goes to bed, to see if any seizures are looming.

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“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, goes a variously-attributed quote (which, according to http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/11/08/writing-about-music/, goes back to Martin Mull, best known to me as Colonel Mustard in the “Clue” movie), but I think that Bujold does a decent job of writing about dance in this chapter.  It probably helps if you’ve seen a vigorous dance routine that you can liken it to, but the transient nature of dance, that it can only be experienced in the moment, means that I’m willing to cut a lot of slack to an author in trying to describe it.  Giving a general impression, all that most people will retain after the experience, is good enough for me.  Somewhere out there is probably a video of Jeanne Robinson doing her impression of zero-gravity dancing, but you’ll have to find that link yourself.

The meeting and discussion with Garnet Five is the main plot significance in the chapter, brief as it is.  I’m more sympathetic with Miles, in his doubt that Corbeau and Garnet Five’s love is truly strong enough to conquer all.  I guess it’s not like they’re teenagers, but Corbeau sounds a bit young and sheltered for his age.

Chapter Seven

Miles is awakened–in what proves to be early morning, rather than the middle of the night–by Roic, notifying him of a call from Admiral Vorpatril.  Miles throws on his gray jacket and goes to take the admiral’s call; Vorpatril says that his surgeon has just confirmed that Solian’s blood sample was manufactured, and asks Miles how he knew.  He wonders if this makes it more likely that Solian was a deserter, and Miles points out that it doesn’t conclusively prove Solian still alive; Roic brings Miles a cup of coffee, as Vorpatril asks if they should share this information with Chief Venn.  Miles hesitates, but he says the next task is to find the precise piece of equipment that manufactured the fake blood in the first place, and, unfortunately, the quaddie police are better equipped to do that.  Vorpatril protests, but Miles points out that he has no authority on Graf Station except what Greenlaw and Venn allow him.  Miles will have to talk to them, especially now that they know whatever happened with the blood was planned in advance.

Miles grumbles about why nobody picked this up the first time through; Roic asks if it’s a rhetorical question.  He says that what people look for will depend on how often they have to deal with crimes.  Hassadar, which is close to Graf Station’s population, averaged one or two a month, so they had no full-time homicide or forensics people, and for really complicated cases they had to call in people from Vorbarr Sultana, where murders are closer to one a day.  So Chief Venn’s forensics expert is probably just a doctor who they call in once in a while, so it’s no surprise they’d be short of ImpSec standards.

Miles wishes he knew more about Solian, but he can’t find friends or enemies, or any evidence he’d ever been to Quaddiespace before.  He might have gotten to know someone on the Idris, but after ten days he might well have found trouble on the station as well.

He calls Chief Venn, who answers floating in zero-gee, sideways to Miles, and rudely doesn’t align his orientation.  When asked, Chief Venn admits that their last murder was seven years ago, and then three years before that; both murders were committed by downsider transients, and confirmed by fast-penta.  He doesn’t take kindly to Miles’s suggestion that his staff might be less than skilled in murder investigations, until Miles tells him about the manufactured blood.  Miles requests Venn get his staff to find out where the blood was synthesized, and if possible by whom, and Venn agrees, obviously thrown off by this new information.

Venn tells him that Sealer Greenlaw wanted to speak to him, and transfers him to her.  She tells Miles that she’s scheduled him to speak to the stranded passengers from the Komarran fleet that morning; Miles is a little nettled at her making the appointment without running it by him first, but he’s also eager to see a nice batch of potential suspects.

He split the difference between irritation and eagerness by remarking blandly, “Nice of you to let me know. Just what is it that you imagine I will be able to tell them?”

“That, I must leave to you. These people came in with you Barrayarans; they are your responsibility.”

“Madam, if that were so, they would all be on their way already. There can be no responsibility without power. It is the Union authorities who have placed them under this house arrest, and therefore the Union authorities who must free them.”

“When you finish settling the fines, costs, and charges your people have incurred here, we will be only too happy to do so.”

He passes on to her the news about Solian’s blood sample, and she says it looks more like desertion than murder.  Miles challenges her to find a living Solian, then, and she says that Quaddiespace is not totalitarian, privacy and freedom of movement being guaranteed.  Miles says that he still thinks Solian is dead, and if so it’s his responsibility and duty to find justice for him.  He signs off hoping he’s ruined her morning, at least.

He asks Roic if he’s ever done a murder investigation, and Roic says he has done a number of investigations, but not strictly murders.  He charges Roic with tracking Solian’s movements as closely as he can, finding any gaps in time, and finding out anything he can about Solian from the crew of the Idris.  Roic protests that Miles will still need security, and Miles says that he will be with Captain Thorne, at least, which doesn’t completely mollify his armsman.  Miles then heads back to his cabin to get dressed, passing Ekaterin on the way.  He asks if she wants to join him in talking to the passengers.

“A Countess is by law and tradition something of an assistant Count. An Auditor’s wife, however, is not an assistant Auditor,” she said in a firm tone, reminiscent to Miles’s ear of her aunt—Professora Vorthys was herself an Auditor’s spouse of some experience. “Nicol and Garnet Five made arrangements to take me out this morning and show me quaddie horticulture. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stick to my original plan.”

Miles apologizes for this unplanned diversion on their honeymoon, and Ekaterin assures him she’s having a good time, but then she doesn’t have to deal with the difficult people.  She allows that maybe they can have lunch together so he can vent, but only if he also manages to eat at the same time.  He reflects that everyone in Quaddiespace is likely quite lucky that Ekaterin is along to keep him on an even keel.

The crews from the Komarran ships have been kept under house arrest on the station; the passengers were just forced to leave the ships, and are being put up in luxurious hostels, allowed to roam the station, even to leave if they want…but not with their cargoes.  The lobby of the hostel where Miles is to speak to them has a large open space, circled by a second-floor balcony, with a staircase down to the conference level.  Bel guides Miles from there to a meeting room with about eighty galactics.

Galactic traders with a keenly honed sense of the value of their time, and no Barrayaran cultural inhibitions about Imperial Auditors, they unleashed several days of accumulated frustrations upon Miles the moment he stepped to the front and turned to face them. Fourteen languages were handled by nineteen different brands of auto-translators, several of which, Miles decided, must have been purchased at close-out prices from makers going deservedly belly-up. Not that his answers to their barrage of questions were any special tax on the translators—what seemed ninety percent of them came up either, “I don’t know yet,” or “Ask Sealer Greenlaw.” The fourth iteration of this latter litany was finally met with a heartrending wail, in chorus, from the back of the room of, “But Greenlaw said to ask you!”, except for the translation device that came up a beat later with, “Lawn rule sea-hunter inquiring altitude unit!”

Bel points out to Miles the ones who’d tried to bribe him to leave, and then he asks anyone who’d met Lieutenant Solian to stay and talk to him.  One man–or herm–stays to talk to Bel about his cargo.  Miles guesses it to be close to a century in age, for a Betan, with elegant features that remind Miles of something he can’t quite recall.  The herm, who introduces itself as Ker Dubauer, says it is transporting several hundred replicators full of engineered animal fetuses, whose next service is due.  It asks to be allowed to service the replicators, and adds that they will be reaching term soon, and if he doesn’t reach his destination by then, they’ll likely need to be destroyed.  When Miles asks, Dubauer says the animals are mostly sheep and goats, with a few specialties.

Bel leaves to go pass the request to Boss Watts; Miles asks Dubauer, who still seems naggingly familiar, if they’ve ever met, but Dubauer says they have not.  Miles asks him about Solian, but Dubauer says he’d only seen him at a distance, never talked to him; Miles decides not to bother telling him about the fake blood.  Several other passengers have by now lined up with tales of Solian to tell, but none of them prove to be particularly useful; Miles wishes for some fast-penta to use, but the only people the quaddies would let him use it on–the Barrayaran crew–are far from likely suspects.

Miles is effectively done by the time Bel returns to say that it can escort Dubauer aboard the Idris to service his cargo.  Miles is running a little late for lunch, but with luck he might be able to catch up with Ekaterin anyway.  They climb up the stairs to the lobby, and he and Bel, both automatically scanning for any threats.  Thus, they both spot a figure on the balcony lifting an oblong box up to the railing.

Miles had a flashing impression of dark eyes in a milky face beneath a mop of brass-blond curls, staring down intently at him. He and Bel, on either side of Dubauer, reached spontaneously and together for the startled Betan’s arms and flung themselves forward. Bright bursts from the box chattered with a loud, echoing, tapping noise. Blood spattered from Dubauer’s cheek as the herm was yanked along; something like a swarm of angry bees seemed to pass directly over Miles’s head. Then they were, all three, sliding on their stomachs to cover behind the wide marble drums holding the flowers. The bees seemed to follow them; pellets of safety glass exploded in all directions, and chips of marble fountained in a wide spray. A vast vibrato filled the room, shook the air, the thunderous thrumming noise sliced with screams and cries.

Miles, trying to raise his head for a quick glance, was crushed down again by Bel diving over the intervening Betan and landing on him in a smothering clutch. He could only hear the aftermath: more yells, the sudden cessation of the hammering, a heavy clunk. A woman’s voice sobbed and hiccoughed in the startling silence, then was choked down to a spasmodic gulping. His hand jerked at a soft, cool kiss, but it was only a few last shredded leaves and flower petals sifting gently down out of the air to settle all around them.

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I thought that, in Komarr, Miles had learned his lesson about not fast-pentaing everybody in sight.  There, he admits to himself that if he’d gotten out the fast-penta for everyone in the terraforming station, and the Waste Heat Experiment Station, the case would have been closed much sooner.  (And Tien would still be alive, and maybe Ekaterin would have still been married to him…or not, I suppose, because his bribe-taking would have been exposed with all the rest.)  And now he balks at interrogating all of the crew on the Barrayaran ships, just because they’re not high on his suspect list?  I suppose that such a high-handed move would win him few friends among his own military, and while the significant penalties for mistreatment of an Imperial Auditor would probably discourage any outright mutiny, I’m sure it would set off a lot of recalcitrance and foot-dragging whenever he actually asked them for help.  But still…

Dubauer, Dubauer…oh, I remember, he was the guy from Shards of Honour whose brain Bothari fried with the nerve disrupter, that Cordelia and Aral had to shepherd across the Sergyaran landscape.  Since the name turns out to be a pseudonym, one is almost tempted to conjecture that it’s somehow related, but I doubt that “Dubauer” had any way of expecting that Miles Vorkosigan would end up on Graf Station because of its actions.  So it’s just a coincidence…though one with a little clue hidden in the letters, no doubt inadvertently.

Roic’s contribution, in pointing out how inexperienced the quaddies would be with murder investigations, was an interesting one.  Venn was a little smug, perhaps, in pointing out that the two murders that Graf Station had seen in ten years both involved downsiders.  What is Bujold trying to say about quaddie society?  That it’s more peaceful than human?  That legs make you more violent and murderous, or lack of privacy and restricted movement?  Or is it just that Graf Station is too “small-town” and homey?  I remain a little skeptical that this is anything more than a statistical blip.  After all, we just got to see, in the book’s first real action scene (that isn’t hearsay from someone else), that there is violence on Graf Station.  Even if it also seems to involve offworlders…


More short, snappy chapters, that’s what I like.   Plus we’re getting into the real plot for sure, now.  I also note that, since there are nineteen chapters in the book overall, we’re over a third of the way through.  So it’s about time for things to start happening…  Next week, doubtless, even more things will happen!  So, until then…

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In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, he says that inspiration is like neutrinos.  There are vast numbers of inspiration particles streaming through the cosmos all the time, and only occasionally do they actually interact with solid matter.  In even rarer circumstances is that solid matter living, or sentient.  Which is to say, inspiration can be highly unpredictable.  And, as you may have gathered by now, I was not, in fact, struck with one of these particles while preparing this blog post tonight.  I mean, I’m quoting Terry Pratchett while introducing the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, which was not written by Terry Pratchett, but in fact by Lois McMaster Bujold.

This week we carry on through the novel Diplomatic Immunity, and I’m struck by one fact in particular about this book: it has an odd number of chapters.  Or, to put it another way: I only managed to do one chapter this week, I’m afraid.  Sorry about that.  So, without further ado (and there has, as William Shakespeare might have said, been much ado about nothing already), here it is…

Chapter Three

Miles and Ekaterin enjoy the view out the ports at Graf Station proper as _Kestrel_ manoeuvres to dock there. The station’s hidden heart is a small metallic asteroid, and parts of the original jumpship that brought the first quaddies here. They’ve been expanding throughout the asteroids of the system for over two centuries now; most of their habitats remain zero-gee, except for the few that deal with “legged humans”, such as Graf Station, or their “capital”, Union Station. Their government is highly democratic, and Miles hopes that he won’t have to deal with a committee.

Roic hasn’t been offplanet before, and Ekaterin hasn’t been outside the Empire, and Miles is glad he sent them for zero-gee and space training before they left Barrayar; his own experiences in bod pods encouraged him to give them better choices than that. They make sure they’ve all had their antinausea pills, Miles missing the biochip on his vagus nerve that he lost when he got killed on Jackson’s Whole.

“So, Roic. If some quaddies visiting Hassadar made themselves obnoxious enough to win a visit to the Municipal Guard’s gaol, and then a bunch more quaddies popped up and tried to bust them out with military-grade weapons, and shot up the place and torched it and burned some of your comrades, just how would you feel about quaddies at that point?”

“Um . . . not too friendly, m’lord.” Roic paused. “Pretty pissed, actually.”

“That’s what I figured.” Miles sighed. “Ah. Here we go.”

They dock at the station and emerge into the zero-gee environment; Miles knows that that is intended to put them off balance, since a true welcome would doubtless have been in a section with gravity. The large docking bay is cylindrical, and half a dozen quaddies with shouldered weapons are visible at various angles, most of them in Union Militia uniforms. The actual dignitaries are three quaddies and one downsider, who Miles instantly recognizes, to his shock, as Bel Thorne, who he immediately surmises must be ImpSec’s local informant.

The quaddie dignitaries introduce themselves as Senior Sealer Greenlaw, Security Crew Chief Venn, Boss Watts of Graf Station Downsider Relations, and Assistant Portmaster Bel Thorne. Miles ignores Greenlaw’s pointed reference to the “victims” on the station and introduces Ekaterin and Roic; he notes Bel’s own shock at discovering Ekaterin is Miles’s wife, and wonders if this will be awkward, given Bel’s own longtime crush on Miles.

“Portmaster Thorne, ah . . .” Miles felt himself scrambling for firm footing in more ways than one. His voice went brightly inquiring. “Have we met?”

“I don’t believe we’ve ever met, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, no,” returned Bel; Miles hoped his was the only ear that detected the slight emphasis on his Barrayaran name and title in that familiar alto drawl.

“Ah.” Miles hesitated. Throw out a lure, a line, something . . . “My mother was Betan, you know.”

“What a coincidence,” Bel said blandly. “So was mine.”

Bel admits he hasn’t been back to Beta Colony in some time, and Miles says cordially that he’d be happy to share more recent news sometime.
Sealer Greenlaw ushers them towards a conference chamber, and they proceed, Roic a little awkwardly in the zero-gee, but, Miles notes with satisfaction neither he nor Ekaterin requires assistance from their quaddie escort. The conference room itself has a large glass wall facing outside the station, probably intended to daunt downsiders; Miles pointedly goes right up to the window and admires the view. Most of the honour guard has been left outside, though Roic uncomfortably shares a handhold with one of the pair that remain; Ekaterin is inspecting some hydroponic flowers. The room features several arched posts, like flower stems, which seem to provide comlink controls and the like, as well as anchors in the room’s centre.

After refreshments are served, Miles asks about the significance of Greenlaw’s title, and how much authority goes with it; she says she’s like a “minister plenipotentiary for the state department”, and notes that she’s travelled to neighbouring systems, and has been working for her department for forty years. Her “work gang” is the Board of Directors of the union, who are the ones who will approve her decisions; Miles allows himself guarded optimism that she might be flexible.

She asks in turn about what Imperial Auditor, and “Emperor’s Voice” means; he explains that the Voice part is figurative, though it does mean that the Emperor is the only one has to answer to, but as an Auditor his role is mostly to listen. Venn asks if that means he’s in charge of the Barrayaran troops in the area, and Miles allows that it does.

“So are you saying that if you ordered it, those thugs out there would shoot?” said Venn sourly.

Miles managed a slight bow in his direction, not easy in free fall. “Sir, if an Emperor’s Voice so ordered it, they’d shoot themselves.”

This was pure swagger—well, part swagger—but Venn didn’t need to know it. Bel remained straight-faced, somehow, thank whatever gods hovered here, though Miles could almost see the laugh getting choked back. Don’t pop your eardrums, Bel. The Sealer’s white eyebrows took a moment to climb back down to horizontal again.

Miles adds that it’s more important to keep them from shooting, which is what discipline is really for. As such, he plans to listen carefully, and asks what the events looked like from their point of view. Venn says it started when they were called to arrest a couple of Barrayarans who had broken into a quaddie woman’s living quarter and roughed her up, in the course, apparently, of trying to retrieve Ensign Corbeau. Venn says that Corbeau had become “friends” with Garnet Five, a zero-gee ballet dancer, and he was in her quarters at her invitation.

Greenlaw adds that Corbeau had, as soon as he heard of the imminent arrival of an Imperial Auditor, requested political asylum in the Union, which is news to Miles. Miles asks if they’re thinking of granting the request; Watts says that they haven’t ruled it out yet, though Venn doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Miles asks to speak to Corbeau as soon as possible, and Venn says obviously he doesn’t want to talk to Miles. Miles insists that he needs to get as much firsthand information as possible, and asks to speak to the rest of the Barrayaran detainees for the same reason.

“It’s not that complex,” said Venn. “A bunch of armed thugs came charging onto my station, violated customs, stunned dozens of innocent bystanders and a number of Station Security officers attempting to carry out their duties, tried to effect what can only be called a jailbreak, and vandalized property. Charges against them for their crimes—documented on vid!—range from the discharge of illegal weapons to resisting arrest to arson in an inhabited area. It’s a miracle that no one was killed.”

That, unfortunately, has yet to be demonstrated,” Miles countered instantly. “The trouble is that from our point of view, the arrest of Ensign Corbeau was not the beginning of the sequence of events. Admiral Vorpatril had reported a man missing well before that—Lieutenant Solian. According to both your witnesses and ours, a quantity of his blood tantamount to a body part was found on the floor of a Graf Station loading bay. Military loyalty runs two ways—Barrayarans do not abandon our own. Dead or alive, where is the rest of him?”

Venn says that they’ve looked for Solian, but he’s not on Graf Station, and his body isn’t anywhere nearby. Miles asks how easily a downsider could disappear, and Bel speaks up; it says that ship travel is fully controlled, and it would difficult, if not impossible, to pass through customs and immigration without being recorded somehow–and Lieutenant Solian has not shown up anywhere. Bel admits that travel within the system is less regulated, but in most of the area downsiders tend to stick out, and Solian hasn’t been seen there either.

Miles asks about the blood, and Bel says that whoever created that scene most likely came through an external airlock, and left the same way. Venn says that means it was probably their own people who did it, then, bringing their own trouble with them. Miles asks if they could see if; Watts says it’s on the other side of the station, and Miles asks if Bel could show him around, offering him a ride in his own ship, which Bel accepts.

After that, Miles has to wait, somewhat impatiently, while the rest of the formalities play out, including the official presentation of the charges and fines being levied upon Vorpatril and his forces. Miles notes that while he is physically accepting the information, he is holding judgement on actually acceding to the charges, etc., though he promises to review them as soon as he can; the quaddies are not best pleased about this, but Miles is happy not to have committed himself to anything yet. He needed some better handle on these events, and he hopes that Bel can give him one. The meeting over, the guards escort the Barrayarans and Bel back to the Kestrel.

Comments

Bel Thorne showing up was a bit of a surprise, first time I read it, but then I suppose it makes sense, especially since Nicol was his only real attachment that we saw outside of the Dendarii. And as our only quaddie character before this, it would be highly disappointing for her to not actually show up in this book, and so Bel’s appearance is not unexpected. For him to be in a position of authority, as opposed to just some kind of local resident, is a bit more surprising, but I guess he’s got skillz.  It’s nice to have at least one more familiar character, since, being off Barrayar and all, there’s going to be a shortage of the folks who turned up in Memory and A Civil Campaign.

I wonder at what point it occurred to the author that Miles’s handy vagus nerve chip would not have survived the needle grenade attack of the rest of Miles’s internal organs…  I guess he was just taking antinausea meds during any of his zero-gee excursions in the meantime.  It almost seemed a bit of a handwave to say that by the way, Ekaterin and Roic both had zero-gravity training…but I suppose I’ll allow it this time, since it is the kind of thing that Miles might want to do, and enough supporting details are added.  And I don’t believe it’s too convenient to the plot.  And it’s not being introduced during a moment of crisis, if it is, and by this point I’m becoming almost hypersensitive to foreshadowing in these books…


Maybe I’ve blown my single-chapter week a little early, but these chapters are much shorter than A Civil Campaign ones, so with any luck I’ll be able to keep up.  Hoping for not many repeats of today, anyway.  I’ll try hard to get you guys two chapters next week, in any case.

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As Canada continues to shiver in the grips of winter, I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, through the thaumaturgical principles of Sympathy, I can help to dispel the cold by means of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  After all, this week I am wrapping up the novella “Winterfair Gifts”, wherein Miles Vorkosigan gets married, in the middle of winter…and so, after that, it’s got to get warmer, right?  If only thaumaturgy wasn’t complete bunk.  (Well, I suppose if it wasn’t, then science would be out the window, and I like science, and besides, not everyone would use it for the pure purposes that I would.)  This week, as I mentioned, brings the last installment, as Roic and Taura alert Barrayaran Imperial Security about the peculiar contamination Taura found on one of the wedding presents…

Winterfair Gifts, Part 3

Roic debates waiting for Pym’s return, but decides that he is a Vorkosigan armsman, and senior on the scene, so he contacts ImpSec HQ as soon as possible.  Within half an hour, an ImpSec captain has arrived to take their statements and other evidence; Roic tries to be a clear and straightforward witness, though he does elide his initial suspicions of Taura.  He takes care to emphasize their doubts that Elli Quinn actually sent the gift, and the captain duly takes the cat blanket as evidence, as well as the pearls and any associated packaging; he’s done and gone before another half hour has passed.  Roic asks Taura if she wants to go get some sleep, but she says she wouldn’t be able to.  They settle down to wait.

“Quiet around here at night,” she said after a moment.

She was speaking to him again. Please, don’t stop. “Yeah. I sort of like it, though.”

“Oh, you too? The night watch is a philosophical kind of time. Its own world. Nothing moving out there but maybe people being born or people dying, necessity, and us.”

“Eh, and the bad night people we’re put on watch against.”

He asks her about Quinn, and she tells him how Quinn was “original equipment” with the Dendarii, and they’ve been through a lot over ten years together.  He expresses sympathy with her for her earlier dilemma, likening it to finding out his liege lord was conspiring against the Emperor, or trying to kill the Empress.  She says that as soon as she thought of it she couldn’t enjoy the party, as much as Miles wanted her to, and had to come back home.  She asks Roic what he would do, and he admits it’s a puzzle, but the Count has always said that there’s a “higher honour”, so they shouldn’t obey unthinkingly. Taura says that must be where Miles gets it from, and Roic quotes Mark as saying that integrity is a disease you can only catch from someone else who has it.  Roic says that he hopes he’d have the courage to turn on his lord if he had to.

He’s trying to bring himself to actually take Taura’s hand when he’s notified that the Vorkosigans and their party are returning from the Residence.  Pym, in attendance on the Countess, asks Roic absently if there’s anything to report, but his attention is caught when Roic tells him seriously that there is.  Once he has Pym alone, he gives him a summary of the night’s events; Pym isn’t certain there’s anything wrong, because he’d checked the necklace himself–though he didn’t touch it himself–but he allows that Roic was right to act on the suspicion, and ImpSec can handle the work.  Taura is a little disappointed by Pym’s reaction, but Roic says that’s probably the best they can hope for based on the little evidence they have.

Taura asks if she can stay with Roic until they hear back, and Roic agrees; he takes her down to the kitchen for refueling, guessing correctly that she’s running low on fuel again.  As they finish up, Pym comes to find them, looking almost sick as he tells them that ImpSec in fact found a designer Jacksonian neurotoxin on the pearls, designed to be activated by body heat and enough to kill anyone who wore it for as little as half an hour.  Roic says that Madame Vorsoisson had them on for about five minutes, and asks if she’s in danger; Pym says ImpSec is dispatching an expert to check her for symptoms, but says that she would be dead by now if the poison was going to kill her.  He thanks Roic again, several times, and says he’s going to brief Lord Vorkosigan on the situation.

Taura notes that the Jackson’s Whole origin doesn’t prove much, since they’ll sell to anyone, but Miles did make some enemies there as Admiral Naismith; by now that cover identity was pretty much blown.  She yawns, impressively, and Roic is struck not only by how tired she must be, but how lonely, in such a strange place.  He asks her if she could sleep, if he promises to wake her up if there’s any news; she says she could give it a try.

He escorted her to her door, past m’lord’s dark and empty suite. When he clasped her hand briefly, she clasped back. He swallowed, for courage.

“Dirty pearls, eh?” he said, still holding her hand. “Y’know . . . I don’t know about any other Barrayarans . . . but I think your genetic modifications are beautiful.”

Her lips curved up, he hoped not altogether bleakly. “You are getting better.”

When she let go and turned in, a claw trailing lightly over the skin of his palm made his body shudder in involuntary, sensual surprise. He stared at the closing door, and swallowed a perfectly foolish urge to call her back. Or follow her inside . . . he was still on duty, he reminded himself.

It’s close to dawn when M’lord returns to the house, looking more ghastly and strung-out than Roic has ever seen him, even after the disastrous dinner party.  He thanks Roic effusively, and tells him that Madame Vorsoisson was feeling better after the ImpSec doctor left; he castigates himself for having missed the signs of poisoning, from the necklace he’d put on her himself, which is like metaphor for this whole wedding.  Both of them had thought it was just her nerves, which he says can’t be a good sign.  He says there won’t be any long-term effects, luckily.  Roic is about to bring up the crying fit he’d witnessed before the pearls arrived, but thinks better of it.  Roic tells him that ImpSec has already come to check all of the other gifts, just in case, and hopes to have them back by afternoon.

He asks M’lord if he thinks Elli Quinn could have done it, and M’lord says it’s impossible–she’d beat Miles up personally if she was that mad at him; in any case, he’d broken up with Quinn months before even meeting Ekaterin, so jealousy doesn’t make sense.  Actually, he points out that it’s odd for the attempted poisoner to use Quinn’s name at all, because she’s linked to Admiral Naismith rather than Lord Vorkosigan, and hopes that that will give ImpSec a lead to use.

M’lord thanks Roic profusely for saving this wedding, and thus saving the whole future of the Vorkosigan house.  Roic admits that it was Taura who found the initial evidence, and Miles blesses her, saying he should kiss her all over.

Roic was beginning to think that line about the barbed wire choke chain wasn’t such a joke after all. All this frenetic tension was, if not precisely infectious, starting to get on what was left of his nerves. He remarked dryly, in Pym-like periods, “I was given to understand you already had, m’lord.”

M’lord jerked to a halt again. “Who told you that?”

Under the circumstances, Roic decided not to mention Madame Vorsoisson. “Taura.”

“Eh, maybe it’s the women’s secret code. I don’t have the key, though. You’re on your own there, boy.” He snorted a trifle hysterically. “But if you ever do win an invitation from her, beware—it’s like being mugged in a dark alley by a goddess. You’re not the same man, after. Not to mention critical feminine body parts on a scale you can actually find, and as for the fangs, there’s no thrill quite like—”

They are interrupted then by the Countess, somewhat to Roic’s embarrassment, though he reminds himself that the Vicereine is Betan, after all.  Miles begins telling her all about the poisoning, and threatening the culprit with dismemberment, before the Countess cuts him off, saying she’s been kept fully apprised, and recommending that he get some sleep so he’s not a total loss at his own wedding.  Miles insists he has to check everything first.

“The garden is fine. Everything is fine. As you have just discovered in Armsman Roic, here, your staff is more than competent.” She started down the stairs, a distinctly steely look in her eye. “It’s either a sleeptimer or a sledgehammer for you, son. I am not handing you off to your blameless bride in the state you’re in, or the worse one it’ll be if you don’t get some real sleep before this afternoon. It’s not fair to her.”

“Nothing about this marriage is fair to her,” m’lord muttered, bleak. “She was afraid it would be the nightmare of her old marriage all over again. No! It’s going to be a completely different nightmare—much worse . How can I ask her to step into my line of fire if—”

“As I recall, she asked you. I was there, remember. Stop gibbering.” The Countess took his arm, and began more-or-less frog-marching him upstairs. Roic made a mental note of her technique, for future reference. She glanced over her shoulder and gave Roic a reassuring, if rather unexpected, wink.

Roic goes to get some sleep himself, since he will also need to be rested for the afternoon’s events.  He’s woken up early by Armsman Jankowski though, summoned to a briefing in M’lord’s suite, right away, so he doesn’t stop to shave or do more than put on last night’s clothes.  He arrives to find M’lord waiting with Taura and Ivan Vorpatril, his cousin and Second; he recalls how a stern warning from the Count had suppressed Ivan’s mischievous nature, and Roic was betting, literally, on it lasting quite a while.  They are joined by General Allegre of ImpSec and the Count, and then the Countess and Ekaterin.

Allegre gives M’lord back the pearls, which he says have been thoroughly cleaned and pronounced safe; M’lord asks who precisely he has to think for this thoughtful gift.  Allegre says that the packaging shows that it came from Barrayar itself–not Escobar as the forged stamps claimed–but the pearls were of Earth origin, which helped to narrow it down.  The purchase has been traced to Lord Vorbataille, but they followed it further back to Vorbataille’s Jacksonian consultant, a man named Luca Tarpan, who they have also apprehended.  M’lord doesn’t recognize the name, but Allegre says he’s linked to the Bharaputrans; M’lord says that explains how he knew about both Quinn and Lord Vorkosigan, but isn’t sure that explains the vicious attack.  Allegre says it was just an attempt to sow confusion, ideally to cover their escape, but Vorbataille was already in custody by that point.  He apologizes for not having turned up this scheme in Vorbataille’s fast-penta interrogation; M’lord says pointedly they’d have found out about it in about an hour, and Allegre agrees, and proffers an apology to Madame Vorsoisson and the Vorkosigans.

He looked up at Roic and Taura, sitting side by side on the sofa opposite. “Fortunately, ImpSec was not your last line of defense.”

“Indeed,” rumbled the Count, who had seated himself on a straight chair turned backwards, arms comfortably crossed over its back, listening intently but without comment till now. Countess Vorkosigan stood by his side; her hand touched his shoulder, and he caught it under his own thicker one.

Allegre said, “Illyan once told me that half the secret of House Vorkosigan’s preeminence in Barrayaran history was the quality of the people it drew to its service. I’m glad to see this continues to hold true. Armsman Roic, Sergeant Taura—ImpSec salutes you with more gratitude than I can rightly express.” He did so, in a sober gesture altogether free of his sporadic irony.

Roic isn’t sure if he’s supposed to say something in response to that, like when he had to give a speech after the incident in Hassadar.  Conversation moves on, though, M’lord asking Madame Vorsoisson that that was her last warning.  He says he’ll have the pearls destroyed, but Madame Vorsoisson insists that she will wear them after all, as a defiance to their enemies.  The Countess reminds them that they still have to get dressed for the wedding, and ushers them out; Roic tells her that M’lord seems to be looking better, and she confides to him that they’d slipped him a double dose of tranquilizers, which seems to have calmed him down sufficiently.

Taura tells Roic that she hadn’t been sure Ekaterin was a match for Miles, but now she sees that Ekaterin has this “Vor” thing, which Elli never could understand, deep in her bones; Roic agrees.  She asks what he’s doing later, and he says that he has night duty all week…and probably for the rest of her stay on the planet.  He then dashes off to get changed.

By the time Roic makes his way downstairs to take his place next to Pym, guests are starting to arrive.  Already present had been Lady Alys and Simon Illyan, the Bothari-Jeseks, Mayhew and Nikki, and some Vorvaynes who hadn’t been able to fit in the Vorthyses’ house.  Duv and Delia Galeni arrive with the Vorbrettens and Vorrutyers, then the Koudelkas; Martya is standing in for her sister Kareen as Ekaterin’s Second.  Mark and Kareen were unable to attend because of their classes and the travel time, but Mark had sent a gift certificate for a Betan vacation as his wedding present, to encourage them to visit.  Martya heads upstairs while Dr. Borgos is searched for any contraband bugs, but she comes back downstairs sooner than Roic would have expected.  The rest of the Vorvaynes arrive, and Nikki proudly shows off his new jump-pilot friend Arde to his cousins, convincing him to hold forth with exciting war stories.

Finally, Gregor and Laisa show up, in attendance as Count and Countess Vorbarra so as not to outrank the Vorkosigans, and to grant them more social freedom.  Shortly thereafter, all hundred and twenty guests head back outside for the ceremony proper.

The air was cold but not bitter, and thankfully windless, the sky a deepening clear blue, the slanting afternoon sun liquid gold. It turned the snowy garden into as gilded, glittering, spectacular and utterly unique a showplace as m’lord’s heart could ever have desired. The flowers and ribbons were concentrated around the central place where the vows were to be, complementing the wild brilliance of the ice and snow and light.

Although Roic was fairly sure that the two realistically-detailed ice rabbits humping under a discreet bush were not part of the decorations m’lord had ordered . . . they did not pass unnoticed, as the first person to observe them immediately pointed them out to everyone within earshot. Ivan Vorpatril averted his gaze from the cheerfully obscene artwork—the rabbits were grinning—a look of innocence on his face. The Count’s menacing glower at him was alas undercut by an escaping snicker, which became a guffaw when the Countess whispered something in his ear.

In the center of the garden, on a circle of brick decorated with the Vorkosigan crest, are the circles of groats, and the groom’s party take their places.  Roic, with the armsmen, is concerned not to see Taura among the guests anywhere.  The bride’s party make their way out on foot, Miles having been dissuaded from fetching his bride out on horseback in Old Vor style; Lady Alys is in the lead, followed by Ekaterin on her father’s arm, still defiantly wearing her pearls.  Roic’s gaze is immediately caught by Taura, walking in the procession as the bride’s Second, and he spots Martya Koudelka with the rest of the guests, watching Taura almost smugly.

Taura’s dress was everything that Lady Alys had promised. Champagne-colored velvet exactly matched her eyes, which seemed to spring to a brilliant prominence in her face. The jacket sleeves and long swinging skirt were decorated on their margins with black cord shaped into winding patterns. Champagne-colored orchids coiled in her bound-back hair. Roic thought he’d never seen anything so stunningly sophisticated in his life.

Everyone took their places. M’lord and m’lady-to-be stepped into the inner circle, hands gripping hands like two lovers drowning. The bride looked not so much radiant as incandescent; the groom looked gobsmacked. Lord Ivan and Taura were handed the two little bags of groats with which to close the circle, then stood back to their star points between Count and Countess Vorkosigan and Vorvayne and his wife. Lady Alys read out the vows, and m’lord and m’lady-to . . . m’lady repeated their responses, her voice clear, his only cracking once. The kiss was managed with remarkable grace, m’lady somehow bending her knee in a curtsey-like motion so m’lord didn’t have to stretch unduly. It suggested thought and practice. Lots of practice.

Ivan opens up the groat circle and collects his kiss from the bride as Lord and Lady Vorkosigan make their way out, past the row of armsmen, saluting with their sword, Pym leading the Armsmen’s Shout; Taura follows on Ivan’s arm, followed by the rest of the guests.  Pym looks like he wants to faint in sheer relief at how perfectly the ceremony came off.

The main dining room of the house seats ninety-six, with the overflow in an adjacent room joined by an archway.  Roic is on duty, not serving at table, but to deal with any emergencies or miscellaneous guest needs; Taura is sitting at the head table between Ivan and Gregor, glowing from the attention, and Roic wishes he was in their place.

Martya Koudelka comes up and greets him, noting how wonderful Taura looks; she explains how she heard the story of what happened last night, and Ekaterin asked her to let Taura take her place.  She was happy enough to do it, since it meant she wouldn’t have to sit with Ivan; Ekaterin said it was one honour she could bestow of herself.  She gives Roic a kiss on the cheek for his own part in the night’s events, for saving them from having to live with a really crazy Miles Vorkosigan.

At the dance afterwards, Taura sits out, commenting to Roic as he passes by that she doesn’t know any of the dances anyway.  Roic says he can’t dance, being on duty and all, but also admits he doesn’t know them either.

On the sixth number, m’lady danced past Roic with her eldest brother Hugo.

“Splendid necklace, Kat. From your spouse, is it?”

“No, actually. From one of his . . . business associates.”

“Expensive!”

“Yes.” M’lady’s faint smile made the hairs stir on Roic’s arms. “I expect it to cost him everything he has.”

Before the evening is too advanced, the bridal couple make their escape via aircar to their Vorkosigan Surleau honeymoon retreat.  The rest of the guests will mostly stay in the capital for a few more days, though the galactic guests will make their way down to Vorkosigan Surleau as well–Elena in particular, to burn a death-offering for her father.  Armsman Jankowski is flying the aircar; Pym, who would normally be doing it, informs Roic that he’s shuffled the duty schedule.  Pym himself, who apparently feels he hasn’t been getting the blame he deserves for letting the pearls slip past, is punishing himself with the night shift, and giving Roic, at m’lady’s request, the week off with double pay, as soon as the Vorbarras leave.  The sendoff is capped with fireworks, both official and unofficial; the latter batch, discreetly supplied by the Count, are administered by Arde Mayhew and, mostly, Taura.

The party winds down slowly, sleepy children being carried off, the Vorbarras and their discreet ImpSec servants leaving, and the younger generation taking over the dance floor with more energetic music while their remaining elders head off to quieter rooms for wine and conversation.  Roic happens upon Taura going through a platter of treats in a side room, and asks if she’d had a good time; she says it was wonderful, and enthuses about her visit to Barrayar.  Roic reminds himself he’s off-duty and sits down with her.

She’s there for ten more days, he realizes, which doesn’t seem like it would be enough time to spend with her.  He asks her if she thought of staying there, finding a place for herself; she says she already has a place, and Roic asks if she’s sure being a mercenary is much of a future.  After a moment, she tells him how her genetic modifications include a shortened lifespan; she says that the doctors tell her that she only has a year left, but she adds that they’ve been saying that for several years already, and the lifespan of a soldier is uncertain anyway.

“Part of me wishes the medics would get it settled. Part of me says, the hell with it. Every day is a gift. Me, I rip open the package and wolf it down on the spot.”

He looked up at her in wonder. His grip tightened, as though she might be pulled from him as they sat, right now, if he didn’t hold hard enough. He leaned over, reached across and picked off the fragile petal, touched it to his lips. He took a deep, scared breath. “Can you teach me how to do that?”

Her fantastic gold eyes widened. “Why, Roic! I think that’s the most delicately-worded proposition I’ve ever received. S’ beautiful.” An uncertain pause. “Um, that was a proposition, wasn’t it? I’m not always sure I parlay Barrayaran.”

Desperately terrified now, he blurted in what he imagined to be merc-speak, “Ma’am, yes, ma’am!”

This won an immense fanged smile— not in a version he’d ever seen before. It made him, too, want to fall over backwards, though preferably not into a snow bank. He glanced around. The softly-lit room was littered with abandoned plates and wineglasses, detritus of pleasure and good company. Low voices chatted idly in the next chamber. Somewhere in another room, softened by the distance, a clock was chiming the hour. Roic declined to count the beats.

They floated in a bubble of fleeting time, live heat in the heart of a bitter winter. He leaned forward, raised his face, slid his hand around her warm neck, drew her face down to his. It wasn’t hard. Their lips brushed, locked.

Several minutes later, in a shaken, hushed voice, he breathed, ” . . . wow . . .”

Several minutes after that , they went upstairs, hand in hand.

Comments

Once they’ve settled on notifying ImpSec, most the “action” the occurs after that is offscreen.  ImpSec gathers information and then manages to identify and chase down the culprits.  Who are, perhaps unsurprisingly, related to the Auditor case that Miles has just been working on, which can now be seen to be a sort of Chekov’s Gun–if they weren’t important to the plot, why had they been brought up earlier?  Sort of like the offhand mention near the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice of the conspirators who show up at the end.  There is some tension–first, about whether Taura’s guess is correct, and then, about what’s going to happen to Ekaterin–and then, I suppose, on whether this is going to quash the wedding entirely.  But Ekaterin reaffirms her dedication to life with Miles, however risky it will be, and all is well again.

Duv and Delia are already married by this point, apparently, having managed to sneak their wedding in between Gregor’s and Miles’s, and Martya and Enrique still seem to be together, too.  And the reference to “the Vorrutyers” makes me wonder if Dono and Olivia are already wed, too.  Or maybe that was supposed to be Dono and Byerly…probably not, since I’m not convinced that By was invited.  Maybe he was; on some level, perhaps, Miles and Ekaterin may owe their getting together to him.  After all, without By’s efforts, would Richars have ended up provoking Ekaterin into proposing?  Well, that’s a little questionable, though.  I’m inclined to think that Roic would have made some comment about By’s presence, so perhaps he wasn’t there after all.  Or maybe the author just didn’t want to reintroduce him…

The romance plotline winds up after the wedding; Roic and Taura were already mostly reconciled after his earlier gaffe about mutations, after joining forces over the pearls, so all it takes is for him to actually have an opportunity to seize.  Pym’s guilt provides him the opportunity, and then he actually takes it.  I’m always surprised that Roic doesn’t find out about Taura’s reduced life expectancy until right at the end there, but I guess it’s not something that she necessarily advertises.  I confess that I’m not convinced that the resolution of the plot is going to be true love or anything, but a certain amount of seizing of the moment, at least, perhaps a ten-day fling.  (Is that a week, on Barrayar, to coincide with Roic’s vacation?  I can’t remember.)  Roic and Taura’s long-term relationship prospects are about as good as Miles and Elli’s were, for about the same reasons…but they can have something, if not a life together.

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And now, having wrapped up “Winterfair Gifts”, and Miles In Love, I will once again be taking a week off before heading into Diplomatic Immunity.  I may have mentioned that we’re out of the Vorkosigan stories that I love, and into the ones that I like somewhat, or are okay.  Of course, Diplomatic Immunity is the only one I’ve read more than once, so maybe I’ll like the others better on reread, but who knows.  In any case, I might as well keep going…after my week off, of course.

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As snow, accustomed or unaccustomed, blankets much of North America, we must turn to indoor pursuits to keep us warm and entertained.  So let’s…read a story set in the middle of winter?  Well, at least it’s mostly indoors…  I am, of course, referring to Lois McMaster Bujold’s novella “Winterfair Gifts”, a somewhat interstitial story which actually depicts the wedding strongly implied by the ending of A Civil Campaign…which, of course, ended with a completely different wedding.  The novella originally appeared in the anthology Irresistible Forces, dedicated to science fiction and fantasy romance tales (later reprinted, of course, in the omnibus Miles in Love, as were the two previous novels), and as such is a romance…though not, this time, starring Miles Vorkosigan, despite the fact that it’s his wedding we’re here to see…

Winterfair Gifts (Part 1)

After notification by the gate guard, Armsman Roic drops the house shields and prepares to admit Lord Vorkosigan and his guests.  He checks that his uniform is spotless, flashing back, as he does so, to the horrible humiliation when Lord Vorkosigan had arrived with other guests, to find Roic clad only in briefs and bug butter.  He’s afraid that Lord Vorkosigan thinks he’s an idiot, and castigates himself for not having blocked the Escobarans’ incursion in the first place, even though he hadn’t been on duty at the time.

The groundcar arrives, and Armsman Pym emerges, glancing inside as if to assure himself that there won’t be a repeat of the previous drama for M’Lord’s Important Off-World Wedding Guests.  Pym has also seemed to treat him like an idiot since the bug-butter incident.  Roic stands to attention as Lord Vorkosigan enters with his guests, and Roic identifies them to himself.  The couple with the baby are the Bothari-Jeseks, and Pym has informed Roic that Elena Bothari-Jesek has full rights to the house, as the daughter of a former Armsman.  The man with the jump pilot implants must be the Betan, Arde Mayhew.  The other one…

The hulking figure unfolded from the groundcar and stood up, and up. Pym, who was almost as tall as Roic, did not come quite up to its shoulder. It shook out the swirling folds of a gray and white greatcoat of military cut, and threw back its head. The light from overhead caught the face and gleamed off . . . were those fangs, hooked over the out-slung lower jaw?

Sergeant Taura was the name that went with it, by process of elimination. One of m’lord’s old military buddies, Pym had given Roic to understand, and—don’t be fooled by the rank—of some particular importance (if rather mysterious, as was everything connected with Lord Miles Vorkosigan’s late career in Imperial Security.) Pym was former ImpSec himself. Roic was not, as he was reminded, oh, three times a day on average.

Sergeant Taura enters with the rest, and Roic is startled to discover, after the removal of the greatcoat, that Taura is female.  Lord Vorkosigan asks Roic about his parents, and Roic informs him that they have arrived home from their earlier engagement.  Miles tells Elena that he’ll have to take her and Baby Cordelia up to meet her namesake right away, or else.  He tasks Roic with showing Mayhew and Taura to their rooms, and says they’ll all meet up in the library later.  Roic manages to ask Taura if he can carry her bag, and she acquiesces; he carries it up the stairs for her, though it’s much heavier than he’d expected.  Mayhew, tired and jump-lagged, goes to his room first, and Roic shows Taura to hers.

Taura asks if Winterfair weddings are a custom, and Roic explains it’s mostly because Madame Vorsoisson is a student, between semesters–though a widow, not a young student.  He asks her if Mayhew likes children, since Nikki Vorsoisson is mad for jump pilots; Taura admits that she’s not sure, since the fleet doesn’t encounter that many, and Roic makes a mental note to make sure Nikki doesn’t meet up with a rebuff.  Taura muses that it makes sense for Miles to wed a Vor woman, though she’s not sure what that means, precisely; she asks Roic to explain Vor to her, but he has difficulty articulating it.

“Now that Barrayar has modernized, isn’t a hereditary aristocracy resented by the rest of your classes?”

“But they’re our Vor.”

“Says the Barrayaran. Hm. So, you can criticize them, but heaven help any outsider who dares to?”

“Yes,” he said, relieved that she seemed to have grasped it despite his stumbling tongue.

She asks Roic if this Madame Vorsoisson loves Miles, and Roic assures her that she does, though privately he wonders at her dark and pensive mood of late.  Taura asks if he’s served Lord Vorkosigan long, and Roic says he’s been there about a year, brought up from the Hassadar Municipal Guard when a vacancy came open.  He asks her the same question, and she says she’s served Miles all her life–all her real life, at least–and asserts that he’s a great man.  Roic isn’t sure of that, but Count Vorkosigan certainly is, of course.  He likes Lord Vorkosigan well enough, and sympathizes with the challenges he’s faced because of his…birth injuries.  He tells her the way to the library, says she doesn’t need to dress formally, and takes his leave.

He makes a security circuit of the house, and then returns to the library, where Taura and Mayhew are examining the wedding gifts that have arrived so far–each of them unwrapped, checked by Pym, and rewrapped before the bride and groom even get to see them.  Some of them have been unwrapped again, and Mayhew and Taura look for their own, and Elli Quinn’s–who is not attending.  Taura holds up Elli’s gift–a bioengineered cat blanket–and they speculate on whether it’s the same one that Miles once gave to Elli, or if it’s a new one, and what message she’s trying to send by it; Taura tells Mayhew not to say anything of this to the bride, or else.

Lord Vorkosigan pokes his head out of the library and says that Elena is feeding the baby, and they’ll be down in a little while; he tells Taura to come in and try his cook’s hors d’oeuvres.  As M’Lord looks up at Taura, Roic is suddenly struck that regular women are, to M’Lord, the same proportion as Taura is to Roic.  As Taura heads in, Lord Vorkosigan tells Roic that, tomorrow, he’ll be escorting Taura to Alys Vorpatril’s modiste in the Old Town to get her a proper lady’s wardrobe.  Roic is daunted with the prospect of being in the formidable Lady Alys’s presence, and asks how he managed it; M’Lord says that she relishes and challenge, and hopes that she’ll be able to convince Taura to wear something other than the wholly unsuitable colour pink, which she clings to because it’s supposed to be non-threatening.

He tells Roic to be sure to endorse whatever Lady Alys picks, and also to be sure to try and safeguard Taura from any insult or snub that might make her uncomfortable, as much as possible.  He’d be there himself, but he won’t have time this close to the wedding.  Roic asks after Lady Vorsoisson, thinking of a crying jag he’d come across in a back corridor; M’Lord says she’s under a lot of stress, which he’s trying to minimize, and Roic wonders if he knows too.

M’lord brightened. “Anyway, I want Sergeant Taura to have a great time on her visit to Barrayar, a fabulous Winterfair season. It’s probably the only chance she’ll ever have to see the place. I want her to look back on this week like, like . . . dammit, I want her to feel like Cinderella magicked off to the ball. She’s earned it, God knows. Midnight tolls too damned soon.”

Roic tried to wrap his mind around the concept of Lord Vorkosigan as the enormous woman’s fairy godfather. “So . . . who’s t’ handsome prince?”

M’lord’s smile went crooked; something almost like pain sounded in his indrawn breath. “Ah. Yes. That would be the central problem, now. Wouldn’t it.”

Lady Vorpatril’s modiste is identified by only a single plaque reading Estelle, and Roic is a little daunted as he leads Taura up the stairs.  They enter a room that looks like nothing more than a Vor lady’s drawing room; Lady Vorpatril is already there with another woman, and turn to greet Taura and Roic as they enter; they seem to take Taura in stride, obviously having been pre-warned, but aren’t quite so equable about her pink pantsuit.  Roic not being sure how to do the introductions, Lady Alys takes matters into her own hands and greets Taura warmly; Taura, a little shyly, says she hadn’t known what to expect–someone older and not so beautiful, perhaps.

“I’m very happy to have a chance to visit Miles’s—Lord Vorkosigan’s homeworld,” Taura told them. “Although when he invited me to come for the Winterfair Season, I wasn’t sure if it was hunting or social, and whether I should pack weapons or dresses.”

Lady Vorpatril’s smile sharpened. “Dresses are weapons, my dear, in sufficiently skilled hands. Permit us to introduce you to the rest of our ordnance team.” She gestured toward a door at the far end of the room, through which presumably lay more utilitarian work rooms, full of laser scanners and design consoles and bolts of exotic fabrics and expert seamstresses. Or magic wands, for all Roic knew.

Roic asks, in mild panic, what he should do, and Lady Alys just tells him to wait.  Not daring to sit on the furniture, he keeps standing, in a position he can maintain for hours if necessary.  Lady Alys returns shortly with Taura’s pink outfit, and gives them to Roic with instructions to see them hidden, or burned, so that they won’t fall into Taura’s hands again.  She dismisses him and tells him to come back in about four hours; ornamental as he is, there’s no need for him to clutter up the reception room.  When he returns, he has to wait for a little longer before Lady Alys emerges, watching carefully for his reaction.

A stunning vision in hunter green stepped through behind her.

Oh, it was still Taura, certainly, but . . . the skin that had been sallow and dull against the pink was now revealed as a glowing ivory. The green jacket fit very trimly about the waist. Above, her pale shoulders and long neck seemed to bloom from a white linen collar; below, the jacket skirt skimmed out briefly around the upper hips. A narrow skirt continued the long green fall to her firm calves. Wide linen cuffs decorated with subtle white braid made her hands look, if not small, well-proportioned. The pink nail polish was gone, replaced by a dark mahogany shade. The heavy braid hanging down her back had been transformed into a mysteriously knotted arrangement, clinging close to her head and set off with a green . . . hat? feather? anyway, a neat little accent tilted to the other side. The odd shape of her face seemed suddenly artistic and sophisticated rather than distorted.

“Ye-es,” said Lady Vorpatril. “That will do.”

Roic closed his mouth.

Taura asks how she’s supposed to bodyguard anyone in an outfit like this; Lady Alys says that men will be lining up to deal with annoying people, which Roic enthusiastically agrees with.  Taura asks if it’s effective, and Roic agrees that it’s terrifying; this dampens Taura’s enthusiasm, and she complains that she already terrifies people, and asks if she shouldn’t wear the pink after all…  Lady Alys desperately tries to persuade her that that’s for younger girls, and she herself would never wear pink bows…  Taura will just have to settle for braver men, she says; Taura says she already knew that, but hoped that fewer of them would be put off.  Although the one she wants is already taken, she says, and Roic wonders what giant of a man she’s referring to.

Lady Alys then takes them to an exclusive tea room, at least partly to refuel Taura’s metabolism, but also for Lady Alys to brief her on proper conduct and manners; Taura absorbs the instruction with fair ease, before Roic’s eyes.  Roic is used as a practice gentleman in some examples, bringing him in for some correction himself, but he reassures himself that next to Taura he’s almost invisible.

During Lady Alys’s brief absence, Taura says that she’s obviously very good at what she does, as Miles’s people generally are.  Just then, a woman passes by the table with a small child, who points out Taura to her mother; Taura tries a reassuring smile, but the child screams in fear, and her mother swiftly takes her out of the tea room.  Taura’s mood seems utterly deflated, and Roic castigates himself for not having dealt with the incident, which was exactly the kind of thing Lord Vorkosigan had tasked him to do.  Lady Alys returns and tries to reassure Taura, but Taura starts to withdraw into herself and try to hide her mouth.  Roic wishes he was back in Hassadar.

He feels much the worse for wear when he arrives back at Vorkosigan House with Lady Alys and Taura, carrying an armload of parcels (and that only a part of what they had bought at Estelle’s).  M’lord calls them in to the library, where he introduces Taura to Madame Vorsoisson, who greets the large galactic woman with aplomb despite her visible fatigue.  M’lord compliments Taura’s new outfit and hairdo, though Taura points out that she does use dye to hide the gray.  Voices from the hall turn out to be Pym admitting Simon Illyan, who takes Lady Alys’s arm and tells Taura he’s glad to actually meet her at last.

Illyan tells Miles that ImpSec has arrested Lord Vorbataille as he was trying to sneak off the planet, and Miles is relieved to hear it, having hoped to get the case closed before Winterfair.  Taura asks for details, and M’lord explains that Lord Vorbataille, heir to a Countship, had gotten in deep with a Jacksonian smuggling ring; the Jacksonians have been dealt with, but Vorbataille was still at large until now.  M’lord expects that the Lord will either be given the chance for a proper suicide, or else merely executed.  The Emperor had, after the hijacking of the Princess Olivia, and the deaths of its passengers, been especially fervent in his desire to see them all brought to justice.  Roic wishes to himself that he’d been able to take part in the case, but Pym has had him on night duty for weeks and weeks.

To change the subject, M’lord encourages Madame Vorsoisson to open her next gift, another one from Elli Quinn, according to the card.  It turns out to be a triple-strand pearl choker, all the way from Earth; she puts it on just for a moment, but takes them off after a brief look in the mirror, saying that they’ll go better with her wedding outfit, and Lady Alys heartily agrees.  M’lord seems relieved to hear this, but Taura frowns.  M’lord says he needs to speak to Illyan, and Lady Alys takes Taura off to freshen up; Madame Vorsoisson says that Nikki is monopolizing Arde Mayhew, and heads off to rescue the pilot.

Roic asks Madame Vorsoisson if she knows how old Sergeant Taura is; she says Taura is twenty-six.  Roic wonders why she had gray hairs, if she’s bioengineered and all, and Madame Vorsoisson says it’s not hers to say.  She can tell him that Miles rescued her a super-soldier project on Jackson’s Whole, and adds that she’s become a valued operative and occasional lover.  Roic is surprised that she seems fine with that, and she says that it was before her time, and now that she’s met Taura, she thinks Miles was bragging a little when he told her of it.  Madame Vorsoisson refuses to comment on Roic’s incredulous queries on the logistics of it, apart from saying that “a height differential matters much less when two people are lying down”.

Only an hour later, Roic is asked to bring the ground-car around, to take Madame Vorsoisson back home; she seems to be feeling poorly, but she insists it’s just a headache, no fever.  M’lord hesitantly suggests that it might just be nerves; Madame Vorsoisson isn’t sure.  M’lord apologizes if the pressures of the wedding are getting too great, and says he’ll call it off if she wants him to.  She says she needs to get home in case she get seriously ill, and Roic takes her arm; M’lord says he’ll send Nikki home later as Roic helps her into the groundcar, where she sits with her head cradled in her hands.

Comments

This novella is such an odd duck for the Vorkosigan stories.  Roic as a viewpoint character, a plot as much concerned with the developing relationship between him and Taura as it is with the mystery of Ekaterin’s sudden illness…  Actually, in some ways I think of it was more of a novelette than a novella–a long short story, rather than a short novel.  The scene and timeframe are fairly compressed, the action somewhat more slight–I don’t think there’s really a physical confrontation at all, for instance.  “The Mountains of Mourning” might be on a similar scale, i suppose, as opposed to the more robust adventure of “Labyrinth” or “The Borders of Infinity”.  The “Weatherman” novella, drawn from the beginning of The Vor Game, might be even closer.

At this point we’d barely seen Roic, just as one of the new Armsmen from A Civil Campaign, and the one who got himself into the biggest mess (literally) at the end.  (I’m reminded of how Pym is “the new Armsman” back in “Mountains of Mourning”, which I suppose is a few years ago by now…)  It’s nice to see him with a little different background, a Hassadar police officer rather than retired ImpSec or other military service, though he is still a little awkward among the nobility.  I read this story somewhat after Diplomatic Immunity, where we see a little more of Roic, though not POV there either.

One of the struggles in doing things from Roic’s POV, for me, is trying to call the characters what he would call them.  So, not just using “Miles” or “Ekaterin”, but “Lord Vorkosigan” (thankfully, usually abbreviated to “M’lord”) and “Madame Vorsoisson”.  I confess I’m usually not nearly that scrupulous–even from Miles’s POV, I’ll usually just call his parents “Aral” and “Cordelia”, but I’ll try to keep it up for Roic’s story here.


I confess I may be a bit lazy in splitting the story up into three parts, as I am, but I found the long chapters of A Civil Campaign somewhat wearying, at times, and I’m happy enough to pull back a little.  I mean, some of those chapters were over 10,000 words–almost half the length of this novella–so maybe I could do it in one installment, but I’d wear myself out.  So I’ll pace myself more this time, and split it–at scene breaks, at least–into rough thirds.  Until next week, then…

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Urg.  Is it time already?  Okay, okay.  So.  Lois McMaster Bujold, Vorkosigan Saga, reread.  A Civil Campaign, a couple more chapters.  Miles Vorkosigan, his brother Mark, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, Kareen Koudelka, and Ivan Vorpatril.  This week, the last full chapters plus an Epilogue–not a usual thing for a Bujold book, as I recall.  So, anyway, yeah, let’s do it.

Chapter Nineteen

In less than four minutes, two ImpSec officers have arrived at the Vorthys household; Ekaterin considers pointing out Gregor had promised them two minutes, but decides that would be rude.  Vassily and Hugo are shocked at their arrival, wondering who exactly Nikki called.  One of the ImpSec men, who Professora Vorthys recognizes as Captain Sphaleros, says he’d been given to understand that there was an altercation, and he’s instructed to detain all of them–except for Aunt Vorthys, of course, whose presence is merely earnestly requested.  Hugo and Vassily identify themselves, and insist there must be some mistake, but Sphaleros says he has his orders.  He knocks on the bathroom door and identifies himself to Nikki, who emerges.  The Professora agrees to come along, and Sphaleros and his sergeant escort them to the front door (with a brief delay to find Nikki’s shoes).  Sphaleros clarifies that they’re not being arrested, just detained for questioning, but will tell them little more than that.

Outside, the ImpSec officers escort them to a black aircar parked on the sidewalk, which takes off once they’re all inside, flying at high speed and low altitude to Vorhartung Castle.  Ekaterin spots the Counts’ banners, and after a brief search locates the Vorkosigan sigil, the silver leaf-and-mountain on brown.  They land outside, to be escorted in by a familiar man in Gregor’s livery.  He leads them to a small conference room, where he directs them to stand behind chairs (except the Professora, who is allowed to sit).

“Where are we?” Ekaterin whispered to her aunt.

“I’ve never actually been in this room before, but I believe we are directly behind the Emperor’s dais in the Counts’ Chamber,” she whispered back.

“He said,” Nikki mumbled in a faintly guilty tone, “that this all sounded too complicated for him to sort out over the comconsole.”

Who said that, Nikki?” asked Hugo nervously.

Gregor enters, to Hugo and Vassily’s shock, and dismisses Sphaleros; he sits at the head of the table and asks the others to sit as well.  He apologizes for bringing them in so peremptorily, but he can’t get away from the proceedings just yet.  Then he asks why Nikki claims he was being kidnapped away from his mother.  Vassily eventually manages to stammer out what Alexi Vormoncrief had told him, and admits he was the one to suggest Vassily take Nikki out of the city.  Gregor asks his man to make a note to do something with Vormoncrief to put him somewhere less troublesome.  He then tells Vassily that it’s a full-time ImpSec job separating truth from rumour, and says that he’s been informed that the rumour against Miles is not founded in actual events on Komarr, but on the schemes of a group of disgruntled men trying to bring him low for their political advantage.

Gregor let Vassily and Hugo digest this for a moment, and continued, “Your panic is premature. Even I don’t know which way today’s vote is going to fall out. But you may rest assured, Lieutenant, that my hand is held in protection over your relatives. No harm will be permitted to befall the members of Lord Auditor Vorthys’s household. Your concern is laudable but not necessary.” His voice grew a shade cooler. “Your gullibility is less laudable. Correct it, please.”

“Yes, Sire,” squeaked Vassily. He was bug-eyed by now. Nikki grinned shyly at Gregor. Gregor acknowledged him with nothing so broad as a wink, merely a slight widening of his eyes. Nikki hunkered down in satisfaction in his chair.

Another ImpSec officer knocks on the door and is admitted, speaking to Gregor briefly; Gregor tells him to bring “him” directly there.  He smiles at his guests, and says he is about to be rather busy, so he will release them to the visitor’s gallery, and any further concerns will have to be addressed later.  He pauses to murmur to Vassily that Ekaterin has his full confidence, to Hugo and Vassily’s astonishment.

On their way out they pass by a scruffy-looking Byerly Vorrutyer, who greets Ekaterin ironically; Ekaterin, maliciously, introduces him as one of her suitors, hoping to make Miles look better by contrast.  They are led out to the gallery, where Gregor’s Armsman forcibly ousts a group of young gentlemen from the front row; Hugo and Vassily remain daunted by their surroundings.  Ekaterin’s gaze roves across the floor, until she finds Miles, who hasn’t seen her yet; she knows she’s not allowed to just call down from the gallery.  She pleased to see that he seems at ease among the Counts and their representatives.

He’s talking to René Vorbretten, who calls Miles’s attention to her; he looks up, somewhat concerned at her company, but Ekaterin tries to give him a reassuring gesture.  Richars Vorrutyer catches this interchange and also spots Ekaterin; she frowns back at him, annoyed that he’s already dressing as if he were Count.  Gregor still seems to be closeted with Byerly, and Dono doesn’t seem to have arrived yet…

But then he does, dressed more properly, as heir rather than Count, but with a pronounced limp, accompanied by Ivan Vorpatril and four other Counts.  Ekaterin asks Lady Vorthys to identify them for her–they are Falco Vorpatril, Count Vorfolse, Count Vorhalas, and one of Vorhalas’s Conservative compatriots, Count Vorkalloner.  Ivan seems very pleased with himself, though Miles doesn’t seem quite sure what to make of Dono’s company.

Miles begins to berate Ivan, but Ivan tells him he’s saved his ass again; Miles asks what he brought the other Counts in for, and Ivan tells him to watch.  Sure enough, as they file past Boriz Vormoncrief’s desk, Richars tries to greet them effusively, but the four Conservative Counts breeze past him with nothing more than a frown from Vorkalloner.  A second attempt is met with a reprimand from Falco Vorpatril for not having been good enough to not get caught in his unethical ploy, and another from Vorfolse castigating him for trying to use his premises for it.  After that, Ivan relents and tells Miles and René what happened.

Miles wonders if they’ll be able to pin anything on Richars, though, who’s usually so careful to distance himself from his pawns, but Ivan said that Richars’s right-hand man, Byerly Vorrutyer, has turned Imperial Witness, and is confessing to setting the whole thing up.  Though moving it to Vorfolse’s hadn’t been his idea–he’d planned the attack for Vorsmythe’s instead.  Miles is surprised that By was working for Richars after all, but Ivan said he’d always been suspicious of him.

Gregor emerges as the Conservative foursome are bending the ear of Count Vormoncrief, and the Lord Guardian of the Speaker’s Circle gently ejects Ivan, who heads up to the gallery.  Dono asserts his right to sit on the bench with Richars, and tells Richars that the municipal guardsmen will be waiting to arrest him after the vote.  Richars hisses back that they won’t be able to touch him when he’s Count, and Miles’s allies will all have turned on him soon enough.  As he leaves the chamber, Ivan suddenly remembers that the usual reward for a job well done is…a harder job, and has to control a sudden impulse to flee.

In Vorkosigan House, Kareen and Martya fling their bug butter tubs at the Escobarans; some of these, being from a cheaper batch, burst on impact, showering the men, and the corridor, with bug butter.  Muno is driven to release Enrique and start flinging some tubs from their end of the hallway back at them; Enrique crawls back towards the lab.  Just then, Armsman Roic, still in his underwear, appears at the other end of the hallway, promising vengeance on whoever had had him woken up.  Gustioz attempts to flee, and Roic reflexively pins him to the floor; Muno begins dragging Enrique back down the hallway, forcing Martya and Kareen to grab his arms in a tug-of-war.  The struggle is inconclusive until Kareen kicks Muno’s wrist to loosen his group, and the three of them manage to lock themselves in the lab.  Kareen, at Martya’s urging, places a comconsole call to Mark.

Miles glances up at the gallery, to where Ivan secures himself a seat next to Ekaterin.  He’s still not sure why Hugo and Vassily are there with them, whether they’re still hassling Ekaterin about her son.  Olivia Koudelka shows up and sits in the back row.  Why are Ekaterin and her party there at all, and why had a Vorbarra armsman escorted them to their seat?

The Lord Guardian calls the session to order, and Count Vormoncrief comes up to present his plea to make Sigur Count Vorbretten; Miles notes that he makes no reference to Richars’s case, which he hopes means a rift between the former allies.  The Lord Guardian calls on René to respond, and René, as planned, yields to Lord Dono.  Dono comes forward and makes his case for the Countship, referring to the medical evidence and affidavits of gender that they had all already been presented with.  He then carries on to tell the story of how he was attacked in the street in an attempt forestall this vote, and how sworn testimony has tied this attack to his cousin Richars.

“Government by thugs in the Bloody Centuries gave Barrayar many colorful historical incidents, suitable for high drama. I don’t think it’s a drama we wish to return to in real life. I stand before you ready and willing to serve my Emperor, the Imperium, my District, and its people. I also stand for the rule of law.” He gave a grave nod toward Count Vorhalas, who nodded back. “Gentlemen, over to you.” Dono stood down.

Years ago—before Miles was born—one of Count Vorhalas’s sons had been executed for dueling. The Count had chosen not to raise his banner in rebellion over it, and had made it clear ever since that he expected like loyalty to the law from his peers. It was a kind of moral suasion with sharp teeth; nobody dared oppose Vorhalas on ethical issues. If the Conservative Party had a backbone that kept it standing upright, it was old Vorhalas. And Dono, it appeared, had just put Vorhalas in his back pocket. Or Richars had put him there for him . . . Miles hissed through his teeth in suppressed excitement. Good pitch, Dono, good, good. Superb.

Miles spots more new arrivals in the gallery–his parents, fresh from their formal breakfast, who end up seated in the row behind Ekaterin and the Professora.  Ivan greets them, but Ekaterin is riveted to the vote below, where Richars is getting up to make his rebuttal.  Richars describes himself as the logical successor to Count Pierre, and dismisses “Lord Dono” as an invention of his overwrought cousin, and a sign of the kind of galactic corruption that they need to keep out of Barrayar–including Miles in that corruption by gesture.  Not getting the kind of approval he’d hoped for, he dares Lady Donna to bring her charges against him as Count, through her “stalking horse”, Miles–then going on to mention the crimes that Miles is “accused” of.

Miles pounces on the point, mentioning that he is only slandered, not accused.  Count Vorhalas adds that he’d be happy to lay the charge against Richars himself.  The Lord Guardian restores order, and Richars continues, though clearly thrown.  He motions to Ekaterin, talking about Miles’s audacity in acting so unashamed when his victim’s wife is looking down at him.  Ekaterin pales at being drawn into the affair, and Miles stiffens in outrage, but reminds himself he can’t just leap across the chamber to throttle Richars.

Ekaterin, in cold fury, tells Richars that he is mistaken, and not for the first time; Richars asks her why, then, she fled from Miles’s proposal.  She parries further verbal sallies from Richars until they are interrupted.

The Lord Guardian banged his spear. “Interjections from the gallery are not permitted,” he began, staring up at her.

Behind Ekaterin, the Viceroy of Sergyar stared down at the Lord Guardian, tapped his index finger suggestively against the side of his nose, and made a small two-fingered sweeping gesture taking in Richars below: No; let him hang himself. Ivan, glancing over his shoulder, grinned abruptly and swiveled back. The Lord Guardian’s eyes flicked to Gregor, whose face bore only the faintest smile and little other cue. The Lord Guardian continued more weakly, “But direct questions from the Speaker’s Circle may be answered.”

Richars’s questions had been more rhetorical, for effect, than direct, Miles judged. Assuming Ekaterin would be safely silenced by her position in the gallery, he hadn’t expected to have to deal with direct answers. The look on Richars’s face made Miles think of a man tormenting a leopardess suddenly discovering that the creature had no leash. Which way would she pounce? Miles held his breath.

Ekaterin leaned forward, gripping the railing with her knuckles going pale. “Let’s finish this. Lord Vorkosigan!”

Miles jerked in his seat, taken by surprise. “Madame?” He made a little half-bow gesture. “Yours to command . . .”

“Good. Will you marry me?”

A kind of roaring, like the sea, filled Miles’s head; for a moment, there were only two people in this chamber, not two hundred. If this was a ploy to impress his colleagues with his innocence, would it work? Who cares? Seize the moment! Seize the woman! Don’t let her get away again! One side of his lip curled up, then the other; then a broad grin took over his face. He tilted toward her. “Why, yes, madame. Certainly. Now?”

She tells him they’ll discuss that later, and that they should finish this business first; she present a gaping Richars with that evidence.  Gregor is amused, Nikki is excited, and the gallery in general breaks up in amusement, Miles’s parents not excluded.  Richars finishes weakly and incoherently, and the Lord Guardian calls for the vote.  Gregor passes, in case his vote is needed later.  Miles is so distracted–mostly doodling “Lady Ekaterin Nile Vorkosigan”–that he misses his turn to vote and has to be prompted by René, much to everyone’s continued amusement.  Lord Dono wins with a narrow majority, but with many of Richars’s supporters abstaining, and Gregor not needing to vote either.  Richars desperately calls for an appeal, which Gregor denies, and Richars is escorted out into the arms of the police.

Miles exults at how Richars had done himself in, though of course with the help of Ivan and Olivia, and…Byerly, he supposes, though there’s still something about that affair that doesn’t quite add up.  Perhaps, later, he’ll take the case as Imperial Auditor and question Byerly himself…  Dono formally assumes the Countship, thanking his colleagues, and returns the vote to René.  Miles, glancing up at the gallery, happens to catch his parents’ first actual introduction to Ekaterin and Lady Vorthys, which catches Ekaterin quite off guard, but she eventually rallies and introduces her relatives as well.  Cordelia and Lady Vorthys seem to almost know each other already, which makes Miles wonder…

René comes forward and makes his case, drawing Miles’s attention back to the floor.  Gregor passes again, and René, with Dono’s support, manages to just reach his majority without requiring the Emperor’s vote either.  Count Vormoncrief’s appeal is also denied, and Sigur Vorbretten seems somewhat relieved to have lost; they greet René as gracious losers, and the Lord Guardian calls the session closed.  Miles restrains himself from dashing up to the gallery, assuring himself that his parents will make sure Ekaterin makes her way down to him safely, and spends some time dealing, somewhat automatically, with the congratulations and other remarks of the various Counts in the chamber.

At last, he heard his father call his name. Miles’s head snapped around; such was the Viceroy’s aura that the crowd seemed to melt away between them. Ekaterin peered shyly into the mob of uniformed men from between her formidable outriders. Miles strode over to her, and gripped her hands painfully hard, searching her face, Is it true, is it real?

She grinned back, idiotically, beautifully, Yes, oh, yes.

“You want a leg up?” Ivan offered him.

“Shut up, Ivan,” Miles said over his shoulder. He glanced around at the nearest bench. “D’you mind?” he whispered to her.

“I believe it is customary . . .”

His grin broadened, and he jumped up on it, wrapped her in his arms, and gave her a blatantly possessive kiss. She embraced him back, just as hard, shaking a little.

“Mine to me. Yes,” she whispered fiercely in his ear.

Count Vormuir rushes into the chamber suddenly, crying out that he’s too late.  Ivan asks Dono how he did that, and Dono disclaims responsibility, though he suspects that the Countess may have staged a well-timed reconciliation with her husband…with the aid of a powerful Betan aphrodisiac.

Nikki confronts Miles, asking him to be sure he makes his mamma happy, which Miles gravely agrees to.  Miles turns to Hugo and Vassily and invites them for lunch at Vorkosigan House so they can straighten some matters out, which they accept, somewhat overwhelmed.  The Lord Guardian comes over to tell them at Gregor has asked for Miles and Ekaterin’s company, for an Auditorial task, and Miles obliges.  Gregor asks Ekaterin if her domestic affairs have been settled, and she says that they should be fine now.  He congratulates the two of them, and then gives Miles an official document to relay to Count Vormuir.

Miles glances at the document, then takes it over to Vormuir, telling him the Emperor has agreed to grant him guardianship of his daughters; Vormuir says it’s about time.  Miles leads Ekaterin and his lunch guests out of the hall, summoning Pym with his car; they pause just in time to hear Vormuir howl about having to pay dowries for all 118 of his daughters…

Back at Vorkosigan House, Mark confronts Roic about the Escobaran trespassers; Roic says they do seem to have a proper warrant, which Gustioz obliges by showing him, bug butter-spattered as it is.  Mark talks to Kareen and the others in the lab, and they unbarricade and open the somewhat battered door.  He rushes to check on Kareen, also bug-butter spattered, and wishes he had her alone to experiment more with the amatory properties of bug butter…but first there’s these Escobarans to deal with.

Mark tells them that he thought he had the right to take Enrique when he paid his bail, and Gustioz says that Escobar doesn’t have slavery; Mark admits that he’s more used to Jacksonian law.  Mark racks his brain for some way to keep Enrique with him…he asks Gustioz to stay and meet his mother, who he’s sure can find some way to deal with this, but Gustioz declines.  Mark realizes they’re gently ushering them all towards the front door of the house, and Enrique looks to be on the verge of becoming tug-of-war rope between Muno and Martya again.  In the entry hall, Mark digs in his heels and refuses to let Enrique go; Gustioz says he’ll find a way to charge Mark as well, no matter who his relatives are.  The argument escalates, and Mark begins to feel the Killer persona beginning to emerge.

The front doors swing open, revealing Miles, in his full livery, and a party of others–including Ekaterin, and some others that Mark doesn’t recognize.

“Who is that?” whispered Gustioz uneasily. And there just wasn’t any question which who he referred to.

Kareen snapped back under her breath, “Lord Miles Vorkosigan. Imperial Auditor Lord Vorkosigan! Now you’ve done it!”

Miles’s gaze traveled slowly over the assembled multitude: Mark, Kareen and Martya, the stranger-Escobarans, Enrique—he winced a little—and up and down the considerable length of Armsman Roic. After a long, long moment, Miles’s teeth unclenched.

“Armsman Roic, you appear to be out of uniform.”

Roic stood to attention, and swallowed. “I’m . . . I was off-duty. M’lord.”

Miles first introduces them all to Vassily and Hugo, with an undertone of hoping that things aren’t as bad as they look.  He asks what’s going on, which breaks the dam, as everyone begins talking at once.  Miles, somehow, manages to glean enough information from this barrage and then halts it, asking if the Escobarans really want to take Enrique away to lock him up.  Gustioz presents him with the warrants, and Miles takes them to a table to look them over.  Mark suddenly notices that Miles and Ekaterin’s relationship seems to have suddenly improved since the last time he saw them, and Miles seems to be unaccountably happy over something.

Miles leafs through the pages, stuck together as many of them are, noting that everything seems to be in order, even all eighteen of the jump-point permissions…  He pauses to ask Mark if it’s true that Ekaterin, and Ma Kosti, and the others, are all getting paid in shares of the bug-butter business…  Miles then turns to Gustioz and says that while everything he has seems to be in order, he is missing a most crucial permission.  Vorkosigan House, he says, is legally part of Vorkosigan’s District, not Vorbarr Sultana itself, and so, therefore, Gustioz needs permission from Count Vorkosigan’s Voice before he can take Enrique from the premises.

Gustioz was trembling. “And where,” he said hoarsely, “can I find the nearest Vorkosigan’s District Count’s Voice?”

“The nearest?” said Miles cheerily. “Why, that would be me.”

The Parole Officer stared at him for a long moment. He swallowed. “Very good, sir,” he said humbly, his voice cracking. “May I please have an order of extradition for Dr. Enrique Borgos from, the, the Count’s Voice?”

Miles looked across at Mark. Mark stared back, his lips twisting. You son of a bitch, you’re enjoying every second of this . . . .

Miles vented a long, rather regretful sigh—the entire audience swayed with it—and said briskly, “No. Your application is denied. Pym, please escort these gentlemen off my premises, then inform Ma Kosti that we will be sitting, um,” his gaze swept the entry hall, “ten for lunch, as soon as possible. Fortunately, she likes a challenge.”

As Pym is escorting them out, Gustioz screams that Enrique will have to leave the house sometime; Miles says they’ll use the Count’s official aircar.  Ekaterin offers to show the lab to her relatives, but at Kareen’s hasty warning she changes this to the interesting historical aspects of the library instead, leaving her aunt to take them and Nikki off while she stays with Miles.  Enrique thanks Miles for his rescue; Miles forestalls any enthusiastic gestures, and Martya leads Enrique off to start cleaning upthe lab.

Mark thanks Miles for his support, knowing how he feels about the butter bugs, and Miles gruffly says he doesn’t want to lose his cook.  Mark asks if the house is really Vorkosigan District soil, and Miles just tells him to look it up.  He asks them not to spring any more surprises to disturb his future in-laws, and Kareen congratulates him.  He says she asked him, and points out to Ekaterin his helpful demonstration on how one should respond to a marriage proposal.  They head off to the library; as Mark and Kareen are heading upstairs to wash the bug butter off of her, they spot the Vorkosigan-livery queen bug scurrying out of sight again, and decide not to mention it to Miles.

Comments

It’s always dicey trying to remember exactly what I thought the first time I read the book, but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t predict Ekaterin derailing Richars’s accusation by proposing to Miles right there in the chamber.  It is a great moment–though, arguably, not as great as Nikki calling ImpSec on Vassily Vorsoisson, and Gregor calling them in to settle the whole matter.  That is a scene I look forward to for the entire book, let me tell you.  And Ivan’s coup in winning over Vorhalas and the others for Lord Dono’s side…  Well, this is the final chapter, so all of the major conflicts have to be settled, don’t they?  Even Enrique’s…

Mark and Kareen’s romantic plot was already tied up, of course, so I almost forget that there’s still something to come with their having to keep Enrique from being extradited.  I’m not entirely sure that I buy it when Mark claims he thought paying Enrique’s bail meant he could take him with him when he left the planet, though.  He spent enough time studying the Barrayaran legal system, at least, as part of his learning to play Lord Vorkosigan, that he must realize that the Jacksonian model isn’t the only one…though I guess I don’t know if Barrayar has a “bail” system…  Or maybe it would have come up in his business courses on Beta Colony?  Well, anyway, Miles manages to finess him out of that one, at least.  I don’t recall seeing Enrique in later books, but one supposes that he gets to live a happy life on Barrayar, in Vorkosigan’s District, though one wonders if there’s Escobaran bail bondsmen lurking around from time to time trying to see if they can snatch him up.  If Escobar has a statue of limitations, too, though, then they’d have to give up after a few years.  (And now I’m picturing Gustioz like Dreyfus from the Pink Panther movies, going insane from his inability to collar Enrique…and eventually starting his own plot to close the wormhole to Barrayar or something…)

Epilogue

From Miles’s point of view, the two weeks to the Imperial wedding sped past, though he suspected that Gregor and Laisa were running on a skewed relativistic time-distortion in which time went slower but one aged faster. He manufactured appropriate sympathetic noises whenever he encountered Gregor, agreeing that this social ordeal was a terrible burden, but, truly, one that everyone must bear, a commonality of the human condition, chin up, soldier on. Inside his own head, a continuous counterpoint ran in little popping bubbles, Look! I’m engaged! Isn’t she pretty? She asked me. She’s smart, too. She’s going to marry me. Mine, mine, all mine. I’m engaged! To be married! To this woman! an effervescence that emerged, he trusted, only as a cool, suave smile.

He manages to spend some time with Ekaterin and her family, eating dinner together at the Vorthyses and Vorkosigan House, before the pre-wedding social calendar truly descends.  Ekaterin limits the number of social events she attends with him, probably, Kareen opines, because she doesn’t want to show up her limited wardrobe.  At one such event, their departure is obstructed by a drunken Lord Vormurtos, one of Richars’s supporters, who comments snidely about how being a Vorkosigan apparently means you can get away with murder.

Ekaterin stiffened unhappily. Miles hesitated a fractional moment, considering responses: explanation, outrage, protest? Argument in a hallway with a half-potted fool? No. I am Aral Vorkosigan’s son, after all. Instead, he stared up unblinkingly, and breathed, “So if you truly believe that, why are you standing in my way?

Vormurtos’s inebriated sneer drained away, to be replaced by a belated wariness. With an effort at insouciance that he did not quite bring off, he unfolded himself, and opened his hand to wave the couple past. When Miles bared his teeth in an edged smile, he backed up an extra and involuntary step. Miles shifted Ekaterin to his other side and strode past without looking back.

Ekaterin glanced over her shoulder once, as they made their way down the corridor. In a tone of dispassionate observation, she murmured, “He’s melted. You know, your sense of humor is going to get you into deep trouble someday.”

“Belike,” Miles sighed.

The wedding itself is an intricate operation that Miles is heartily glad he’s not in charge of.  Due to space limitations, and luckily thanks to good weather, the ceremony is held outside on a large parade ground.  At breakfast Gregor announces his plan to escape after dinner, drowning his pursuers in a lake of wine; nobody except the couple themselves, and their ImpSec guards, know where they’re spending the wedding night.

The ceremony starts with Gregor, mounted on a glossy black steed, leading a white horse to the Komarran delegation, where Miles formally calls for the bride to be brought out, after which she is deployed carefully onto the white horse, and led back by her father to the circle of coloured groats.  Miles is in the inner circle, with the parents and Laisa’s Second; he has little to do but watch the exchange of vows, and watch his father actually cry, whether out of the ambient sentimentality or sheer political relief he can’t tell.  Once the vows are done, Miles opens up the circle of groats and lets the new married couple out…then, after being the first to wish them well, he makes his way to seek out Ekaterin.

At the reception, each District has erected an outdoor kiosk to offer their own particular food and drink; the Vorkosigans are mostly donating wine, but Mark and Kareen have also set up a bug-butter “maple ambrosia” kiosk, with a few Glorious Bugs on display.  When Ivan, Miles and Ekaterin arrive, Kareen tells them that everyone loves the Glorious Bugs, and they’ve had to lock them up to keep women from stealing them to wear as hair ornaments.  Kareen offers some to Ivan, who comments on its kick; Kareen says it’s got maple mead in it, and Ivan is shocked that Ma Kosti has made something so great out of such disgusting ingredients.

Mark says that he’s made a deal with Lord Vorsmythe to solve their cash-flow problem, and offers to redeem Ekaterin’s shares at twice face value; Ekaterin is about to accept, but Kareen advises her to hold onto them instead, and use them as collateral if she needs to convert them into cash at some point.  In the meantime, she can hold onto them as the stock price skyrockets, and maybe use them  to finance Nikki’s jump pilot training…Kareen herself plans to use them to finance her return to Beta Colony.  Ekaterin agrees with Kareen’s idea, and Mark grumbles about the loss of his stock majority.  Kareen congratulates Ma Kosti about the idea of using the maple mead to win Miles over, since he actually likes it; Ma Kosti says that it’s actually Miles’s meadery, back in the mountains, that’s supplying the mead in the first place, which was his idea.

Mark returns to Kareen the groats from the wedding circle that he’d been keeping for her, and asks what they’re for; Kareen says they’re just a souvenir, to be kept and passed down.  Miles adds that their numbers will mysteriously multiply over time, and Mark speculates that one could take the real weddings groats, mix them in with other ones, and make a tidy profit by selling them as “genuine”, and not even be lying.

Miles greets Kou and Drou, who are passing by, but seeming a little subdued; Drou says that Olivia has just announced her engagement…to Dono Vorrutyer, which will take some getting used to.  She and Delia are now fighting over who gets married first, and Kou winces over his poor beleaguered wedding budget.

Commodore Koudelka edged closer to Mark, and lowered his voice. “Mark, I, ah . . . feel I owe you an apology. Didn’t mean to be so stiff-necked about it all.”

“That’s all right, sir,” said Mark, surprised and touched.

The Commodore added, “So, you’re going back to Beta in the fall—good. No need to be in a rush to settle things at your age, after all.”

“That’s what we thought, sir.” Mark hesitated. “I know I’m not very good at family yet. But I mean to learn how.”

The Commodore gave him a little nod, and a crooked smile. “You’re doing fine, son. Just keep on.”

Kareen’s hand squeezed his. Mark cleared his suddenly inexplicably tight throat, and considered the novel thought that not only could you have a family, you might even have more than one. A wealth of relations . . . “Thank you, sir. I’ll try.”

Olivia and Dono arrive to try the ambrosia and accept congratulations; Olivia says that the Vorbrettens have started their first child, a boy, in a uterine replicator, a topic which draws the women together in interested consultation.  Ivan complains that now he’s losing old girlfriends two at a time.  Kou, still wrestling with the idea, muses that Dono is old enough to be Olivia’s father–or mother–and he’d expected his daughters to marry military officers.  There’s Duv Galeni, at least, he supposes, and Martya’s still possible…but Mark spots Martya with Enrique and privately thinks perhaps not.  Martya will be overseeing the business when he and Kareen return to Beta, and spending a lot of time with Enrique…  He muses to himself that the four girls may end up, between them, splitting the world of accomplishment between them–military, economic, political, and scientific.  He makes a note to maybe send Kou and Drou on a trip to the Orb for Winterfair, if he can afford it…allowing them to visit their daughter as well, to make the offer more irresistible.

Ivan, who has spotted an oddly unincarcerated Byerly Vorrutyer wandering the reception, waits until By is finished chatting with Dono before joining him.  He asks Byerly why he isn’t in jail, and By points out he’s turned Imperial Witness; Dono has forgiven him, since it was Richars’s plan in the first place, and Richars is the one who got arrested.  Ivan asks if they can talk somewhere more private, and leads a reluctant By into a sheltered nook (where they evict a young ensign and his girl).  Ivan begins to grill By ruthlessly, asking why he’s at the reception, and what was really going on when Dono was attacked.  By claims that Dono got him in, which Ivan doubts, saying that he knows By is lying, but can’t tell about what.

By says that he had helped set up the attack, but he’d also scheduled a squad of guards to intercept the attack–but only at Vorsmythe House, which is why he was thrown when the action was at Vorfolse’s instead.  His intention was to stampede public support to Dono, and he left Dono in the dark to make his reactions more authentic.  He thanks Ivan for, along with Olivia, saving his plan.  Ivan asks if Gregor ordered all this, and By said he tried very hard to keep Imperial Security out of it, since they wouldn’t have had a plan with nearly the same political flair.  He’d already talked to Miles about it, who had critiqued By’s plan, pointing out its flaws.

Ivan was almost lured into sympathetic agreement. But not quite. He pursed his lips. “So, By . . . who’s your blind drop?”

By blinked at him. “My what?”

“Every deep cover informer has a blind drop. It wouldn’t do for you to be seen tripping in and out of ImpSec HQ by the very men you might, perhaps, be ratting on tomorrow. How long have you had this job, By?”

“What job?”

Ivan sat silent, and frowned. Humorlessly.

By sighed. “About eight years.”

It all fits now, with By actually working for ImpSec; his shenanigans on Dono’s behalf have left him somewhat eclipsed, but Ivan is sure he’ll recover.  Somewhere, in the bowels of ImpSec, someone is surely in charge of Byerly Vorrutyer, and Ivan hopes to make their acquaintance sometime.  The identity of the blind drop nags him, though, since he feels it should be somebody he knows; By says he should surely be able to guess.  Ivan reasons that it has to be someone in high Vor society, but not somebody By is closely tied to…hidden in plain sight.  By refuses to tell, but gives a little bow to Lady Alys and Simon Illyan as they pass by, and Lady Alys nods back…

Miles returns to Ekaterin’s side after a brief absence, and chuckles wickedly; he tells her that he’s just found out where Alexi Vormoncrief’s next posting is–laundry officer, Kyril Island.  He explains the situation there to reassure her that it’s truly a suitable punishment.  They walk about the reception, and Miles asks if she wants a large wedding.  Primed by his mother, she says that she’d be happy to have one…if he can wait until her mourning year is over; Miles agrees that a quiet wedding, sooner, would be better, and suggests Vorkosigan Surleau, or perhaps her own garden outside Vorkosigan House.

Ekaterin spots the Cetagandan delegation, which includes an actual haut-lady from the capital, as well as the governor of Rho Ceta.  The haut-lady and her ghem-general companion come over to speak to them, and Miles greets haut Pel and ghem-general Benin.  Pel actually fades her bubble briefly, so Ekaterin can catch a glimpse of the woman inside; Miles introduces Ekaterin to them.  Benin congratulates him, and then expresses Emperor Giaja’s personal condolences on the death of his friend Admiral Naismith, and trusts that he will remain dead; Miles replies that he trusts that his resurrection will not be necessary.  After the Cetagandans leave, Miles says that he apparently retired the Naismith identity just in time, since the Cetagandans seem to have figured it out.  Ekaterin wonders briefly what would have happened if they’d met when they were younger, before she was with Tien…and decides that they would probably have passed right by each other, being on different trajectories.

And she could not unwish Nikki, or all that she had learned, not even realizing she was learning, during her dark eclipse. Roots grow deep in the dark.

She could only have arrived here by the path she’d taken, and here, with Miles, this Miles, seemed a very good place to be indeed. If I am his consolation, he is most surely mine as well. She acknowledged her years lost, but there was nothing in that decade she needed to circle back for, not even regret; Nikki, and the learning, traveled with her. Time to move on.

Comments

This kind of story is supposed to end with a wedding, isn’t it?  Well, it’s not the main characters, but they have an engagement, at least, and the other relationships seem to be moving in promising directions.  Order is restored, all is right with the world, the villains have gotten their comeuppance.  In this case, I suppose the villains would be Richars Vorrutyer and Alexi Vormoncrief.  Sigur Vorbretten seemed to repent, at the last–I’m not sure if he was really the power behind that scheme, or if it was Boriz Vormoncrief, but he doesn’t seem to have lost more than any other member of his party.

I suppose that Ekaterin is right that she and Miles probably wouldn’t have hit it off had they met when they were younger…but I seem to recall that her general conclusion turned up in one of those books of logical fallacies that I’ve been reading these days.  People tend to, in general, conclude that their current life is practically the best of all possible worlds.  Fewer people than one would expect would change anything substantial about their lives, because most people can think of something about their life that they wouldn’t want to give up.  I remember a story from OnSpec magazine some years ago called “The Other Rat”, that Google tells me was written by David Barr Kirtley, about a man who could rewind time whenever he wanted to…but once he had children of his own, he couldn’t bear the thought of taking their lives away from them, so stopped using his ability.  There’s also Ken Grimwood’s novel Replay, where a man is forced to rewind his life several times and restart it from his younger days, and ends up taking quite different choices.  So much of what happens in the world is contingent, that I think that most choices would end up being just fine for everyone who makes them…but it’s hard to avoid attachment to what we have now.

I was completely surprised by the reveal of Byerly Vorrutyer’s role with ImpSec the first time around, and maybe even the second.  I wasn’t sure what to make of the guy, really, especially given that we’re given so few positive portrayals of Vorrutyers in the series.  I guess Lord Dono is okay, too, but by Barrayaran standards, going offplanet to get a sex change operation is a wee bit extreme.  Well, we get to see By return in Ivan’s book, which was good.

Overall Comments

I found myself reading ahead in this book less than I did in Memory, and, perhaps because of the longer chapters, I found it tougher going, to keep up with my standard two-chapter-a-week pace.  I don’t think I enjoyed it as much, reading it at the slower pace, perhaps because it takes longer to get past the less fun parts in the middle and back into the upswing.  But it does still have more than its share of Moments of Awesome–it’s just that, because of traditional book pacing, they tend to cluster towards the end.  Ah, well.  Oh, and I confess my sympathies are largely with Miles, in that butter bugs would probably give me the willies.


Next week off, and then back for “Winterfair Gifts”.  Which I tend to think of as shorter than the other novellas, but I’m not sure if it is.  I’ll have to do some word-count calculations to decide how many weeks to stretch it over, but at this point I’ll probably err on the longer side.  And after that it’ll be Diplomatic Immunity, which will be the last one I’ve actually read more than once.  Also, A Civil Campaign was the last of my “favourite” Vorkosigan books, so it feels like I’m on the downward slope here.  Maybe the newer ones will hold up better on reread, but I guess we’ll have to see…

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